Sunday 22 October 2017

Adrift for 24 days, two survivors of shipwreck 'lived by cannibalism'

Ben Macintyre in Washington

TWO MEN have been washed up alive on a coral reef off Haiti, bringing with them a grim story of shipwreck, survival and cannibalism.

A boatload of illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic stayed alive for more than three weeks as they drifted at sea by devouring their fellow passengers, according to one of the survivors, Carlos Pinales (19).

"Every night someone died and in the morning the others would cut them up and eat them," said Pinales, whose fiancee was among those who died on board.

Pinales claimed that he had survived only by drinking seawater, although a doctor said that it would have been impossible for him to survive for so long without resorting to cannibalism.

The horrific journey began on February 24 when Pinales and about 60 others from the Dominican Republic crowded on to a rickety boat, Les Canotes, in an illegal attempt to get to neighbouring Puerto Rico.

The passengers each paid $240 to the boat's two captains, who vanished while the boat was still docked at the port of Romana, leaving the would-be immigrants to attempt to cross the treacherous Mona Passage alone.

On the second day at sea, within sight of Puerto Rico, the engine failed and the vessel began drifting west, ending up hundreds of miles out at sea. Without food or water, people started to die of dehydration and exposure after just a few days. At first the bodies were thrown overboard, but eventually the voyagers began to eat them.

The survivor of Les Canotes said that fights broke out among the increasingly desperate and famished passengers, but it was not clear whether anyone was killed.

Last Thursday, after 24 days at sea, the boat finally struck a coral reef off the island of L'ile-a-Vache, three miles south of Haiti and sank, leaving Pinales and two other men to struggle to shore.

Sixteen bodies washed ashore at L'ile-a-Vache; 13 were buried in a common grave because they were so decomposed. Another 40 were listed as missing.

Pinales said that he and the other two men were the only passengers still alive when the boat sank on the reef. The third man died from dehydration and a head injury in a Haitian hospital the next day.

The other survivor, who has yet to regain full consciousness, has been tentatively identified as Felix Antonio Marcelino Borges.

Dr Urania Suarez, who examined Pinales in the hospital at Barahona, said his claim to have lived for 24 days on salt water was not credible. "The only way he could have survived was to eat them," she said.

About 15 bodies have been found, said Yolaine Surena, director of Haiti's Civil Protection Office. (* The Times, London)

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