By Jacqueline Charles, McClatchy Newspapers –
MIAMI — Bahamian police said Thursday that the father of five children who perished at sea in Sunday’s Haitian boat tragedy was the organizer of the ill-fated trip and is being sought by police.
Chancelaire Baptiste, 52, is a diver and is known as Chancy, his brother-in-law told The Miami Herald earlier this week. Baptiste’s oldest child, Shana, unsuccessfully tried to rescue her siblings after the boat took on water off the Bahamian coast. But she died along with 10 other Haitians.
At least a dozen other migrants onboard are presumed missing.
“He was the captain,” Bahamian police spokeswoman Loretta Mackey said by phone from Grand Bahama Island.
She and other officers say Baptiste was among those who survived the trip. Police have been questioning five survivors for days trying to confirm how many people were on board, who organized the voyage and what exactly went wrong.
On Thursday, police issued a bulletin for Baptiste and released his photo. The bulletin said Baptiste was a resident of Treasure Cay, Abaco, where the trip originated.
Eleven bodies were recovered from the boat, which was carrying Haitian migrants to Florida.
The U.S. Coast Guard said that after initially requesting help with air support, Bahamian authorities did not ask for their assistance on Thursday.
In South Florida, the Haitian community mourned the tragedy and Haitian advocates called on President Barack Obama to approve the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.
Thousands of signatures on petitions, as well as letters from nearly 100 U.S. Congress members, support the program, which only requires the president’s signature to go into effect.
It would allow the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to start paroling the most vulnerable Haitians who have already been approved for entry into the United States and allow them to be reunified with family members. Some of them have been languishing for up to 11 years on a waiting list in Haiti.
“Haitian Family Reunification Parole does not need an act of Congress,” said Marleine Bastien, a Haitian rights advocate in Miami. “That is why we’re so disappointed that the Obama administration has not done this and our brothers and sisters are dying.”