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Rescuers searching for 12 missing migrants

world Updated: Jan 22, 2009 09:32 IST
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Rescuers were searching for at least 12 missing migrants including two Sri Lankans in choppy waters off the British Virgin Islands after their flimsy boat collided with a reef and broke apart, authorities said.

Rescuers said on Wednesday roughly 25 people, most of them Haitians, had been aboard the overloaded boat that was illegally traveling the 100-mile passage from the Dutch territory of St Maarten to the British Virgin Islands. They were apparently island-hopping in hopes of eventually reaching US shores when the boat hit a reef on Monday night, pitching passengers into the ocean.

Crews used aircraft and several boats to look for any sign of the missing people including three children in white-capped Atlantic waters off Anegada, a sparsely inhabited island of coral and limestone, according to US Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad.

Fishermen reported spotting a corpse and a live person drifting a couple miles off the northernmost island of the wealthy British archipelago, but said they vanished beneath the waves. Earlier yesterday, the Coast Guard had reported that the fishing crew had retrieved a body.

"Up to this point, no bodies have been recovered," said Royal Virgin Islands Police spokeswoman Diane Drayton. Drayton raised the number of the missing to 12 after interviews with survivors.

Police were struggling to identify 13 migrants rescued by a passing fishing boat. They said three of the survivors are Sri Lankan, a nationality that is relatively rare in the constant ebb and flow of illegal immigration across the Caribbean.