A boat carrying Haitian migrants caught fire off the coast of the Dominican Republic, leaving at least eight passengers dead and 44 missing, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said Thursday.
The boat was traveling from the northern Haitian town of Cap-Haitien to the Turks and Caicos islands when it caught fire about 25 miles north of the Dominican Republic, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Barry Bena said Thursday.
Two migrants were pulled alive from the water Wednesday and brought to a hospital in Montecristi on the Dominican Republic's north coast. The two adults, a man and a woman, were being treated for burns and dehydration, Dr. Maria Belliard said.
It appeared the migrants had been in the water for at least a day when they were spotted by a U.S. yacht cruising from Panama, said Capt. Jose Antonio Carrero, commander of the Dominican Navy's northern operations.
"They found just the two people, not the boat, not anything," Carrero said.
Eight of the passengers were found dead in the Atlantic Ocean.
A U.S. Coast Guard cutter, two airplanes and a helicopter were searching for other survivors, Bena said. A Dominican Navy ship assisted in rescue efforts Wednesday.
"We've been told by the U.S. Coast Guard to expect several bodies tomorrow," said Fritzner Barthelemy, an inspector with the Haitian coast guard.
Authorities did not know when the blaze occurred, when the ship set sail or what caused the fire.
Fleeing grinding poverty and frequent political turmoil, thousands of Haitians take to the sea each year, sailing on flimsy boats north toward Florida. Nearly all of them are intercepted and repatriated to their homeland.
The number of boat migrants increased after a 2004 revolt toppled then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, sending the economy into tailspin and touching off a bloody wave of street violence.