(CNN) — Bahamian rescue teams have found the bodies of 17 Haitian migrants believed to have died after their boat capsized in rough seas during a “suspected people-smuggling operation,” the country’s leader said.
The bodies of 15 women, a man and a baby were found in the water after the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force responded to reports of an incident involving a boat 11 kilometers from New Providence shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said in a statement.
Twenty-five people were rescued and turned over to health authorities for follow-up, but more people are presumed missing, and search and recovery operations are continuing, Davis said.
“Preliminary investigations suggest that a twin-engine speedboat left a West Bay Street dock around 1 a.m. with approximately 60 people on board. Its final destination is believed to be Miami, Florida,” the prime minister said.
“Law enforcement officials will brief you on the criminal matter as well as other rescue and recovery efforts. However, I would like to convey the condolences of my government and the people of the Bahamas to the families of those who lost their lives. life in this tragedy,” the prime minister said.
Davis noted that his government has always warned against dangerous travel and has increased vigilance on land and sea, and intensified patrols.
“We take this opportunity to strongly condemn the organization of smuggling operations that put human lives at risk and compromise our national security. Those who are discovered will face legal proceedings,” he said. “I understand the situation that many of these migrants face and that encourages them to take such a great risk. However, we call on those who are considering making that journey, not to do so.”
Bahamas Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander told reporters on Sunday that there were believed to be between 50 and 60 people on board the 20-foot speedboat and that survivors or bodies were being searched for.
He said that among the survivors were two Bahamians who were being questioned in police custody. The men were known to police “for various crimes,” she said.
Immigration Minister Keith Bell said 20 people had been taken to a detention center and were being interviewed.
“Those people have indicated that they would have paid between $3,000 and $8,000 for this fateful trip,” Bell said.
Haiti has been suffering for years violent instability. After the assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse in July last year, his successor, Ariel Henry, promised to improve security. However, kidnappings and gang violence continue to devastate the Caribbean country.
Haiti has been in turmoil for years, but the violence drastically intensified since Moïse’s assassination. His death was followed in August by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that killed thousands of people.
In addition to the security situation and the political crisis, Haiti is also suffering from high levels of inflation and food insecurity. The World Food Program estimates that 1.3 million Haitians are at risk of severe hunger.
CNN’s Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.