Two boats collide in Bahamas, killing four and wounding 16

By CHRISTOPHER SAUNDERS
Associated Press Writer


NASSAU, Bahamas


A ferry boat and cargo ship collided in Bahamian waters early Saturday, killing four people and injuring 16 as they were traveling to a holiday celebration, officials said.

Rescuers ended a search for as many as seven more victims Saturday afternoon, unsure if any of those were actually missing. The accident occurred nine miles southwest off Eleuthera island near the Exuma chain, in the Caribbean archipelago off Florida, local police said.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Bahamian Defense Force earlier had reported six killed in the accident, but later revised the death toll to four, citing a miscount.

The Sea Hauler ferry had been carrying 194 passengers and seven crew members when it left the capital, Nassau, in calm waters Friday night, Deputy Prime Minister Cynthia Pratt said.

It collided at about 1 a.m. EDT Saturday with The United Star, a 178-foot cargo ship carrying about 11 crew members and passengers as well as cars and cargo, she said.

"After the hit all I heard was screaming and shouting. No one knew what was going on. I started running around the boat to look for my friends," ferry passenger Mario Lockhart said after returning to Nassau Saturday afternoon.

Four people died from injuries after being pinned under a toppled crane. None has been identified by name.

The local commuter ferry had been on its way to Cat Island, where Emancipation Day celebrations were planned during a three-day holiday weekend marking the 1834 end of slavery in this former British colony.

Though the ferry was only permitted to take 120, police said passengers anxious to get to Cat Island may have sneaked onto the boat.

Four people killed when they were pinned under a crane that toppled over on the ferry during the collision. None of the victims identities have been released.

Fifteen injured were taken immediately to a Nassau hospital, including four listed in serious but stable condition. Injuries included a fractured pelvis and broken arms and legs, the hospital said.

Three people with minor injuries have been discharged, while at least one more person with unspecified injuries was still at the scene, police said.

Police were to escort both the 98-foot ferry and the cargo ship to Nassau, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Tony Russell said. The Coast Guard sent units from Miami and Clearwater, Fla., to assist in the rescue.

Most of the passengers and crew on the ferry had been transported to another boat that was bringing them back to the capital.

About 200 people were gathered at the Potter's Cay dock in the capital to wait for relatives or friends they hoped were among the survivors.

"I can't take it," shouted Sheliqua Munnings, 28, who said her mother had been on the ferry. "I don't know what happened, if she is all right, I just don't know."

Police were brought in to control the swelling crowd, as paramedics waited to receive any other survivors with injuries.

Prime Minister Perry Christie called the incident a national tragedy, and pledged to investigate whether laws had been violated.

"We have to focus on the lessons that we can learn from this with a view to effecting whatever improvements are necessary," Christie said.

The Bahamas, with a population of about 300,000, comprises some 700 low-lying islands and more than 2,000 small cays off the coast of southern Florida.

It is one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, with an economy based on tourism and the financial industry.