Eighteen Haitian migrants died Wednesday after their boat capsized off the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to reports.
The capsizing happened sometime after 3 a.m. about 150 yards from the island of Providenciales, said Neil Smith, a spokesman for the government. The cause was not immediately known but overloading was a likely factor, he said.
According to the Turks and Caicos government, the sloop capsized as it was being towed to a dock to offload the migrants.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter is assisting in the search for additional migrants. More than 50 migrants were tossed into the water and more than 30 were rescued, according to the Coast Guard.
Several survivors escaped at shore, according to the government.
Turks and Caicos, southeast of the Bahamas, is a frequent destination for Haitian migrants seeking to escape their impoverished country and find work in the British territory's construction and tourism industries.
In November, an overloaded migrant sloop overturned in the southern Bahamas and an estimated 30 people drowned. The area is dotted with many tiny islands, reefs and patches of shallow water, making it treacherous for boaters and a frequent transit zone for smugglers seeking to evade capture.
This bulletin will be updated as more information becomes available.