Boat carrying around 60 people and headed for US state of Florida capsizes, killing 17 people, with some 25 passengers rescued so far, officials say.

Human smugglers are known to use the Bahamas –– a group of islands near the Florida coast –– as a jumping-off point for getting people into US.
Human smugglers are known to use the Bahamas –– a group of islands near the Florida coast –– as a jumping-off point for getting people into US. (Reuters)

Seventeen suspected Haitian migrants have died in a boat accident off the coast of the Bahamas.

"Rescue teams recovered 17 bodies from the water" –– 15 women, one man and one infant –– a government statement tweeted by Prime Minister Philip Davis said on Sunday.

Another 25 people were rescued and placed in the care of health officials, the statement said. At least one person is still missing, with search missions under way.

Preliminary investigations indicate that a speed boat left New Providence, the most populous island in the Bahamian archipelago, around 1:00 am on Sunday with about 60 people on board. Officials believe the boat was destined for Miami, Florida.

The vessel is believed to have capsized in the rough water, 11 kilometres off the coast of the island.

A multi-agency investigation involving the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defense Force is under way "to determine the full circumstances surrounding a suspected human smuggling operation which has resulted in" the migrant deaths, the statement said.

READ MORE: More than 100 Haiti migrants arrive by sailboat in southern US

Human-smuggling operations

Human smugglers are known to use the Bahamas –– a group of islands near the Florida coast –– as a jumping-off point for getting people into the United States, in what can often be a treacherous journey.

In March, the US Coast Guard intercepted 123 people on board a small vessel off Anguilla Cay, in the western Bahamas, and just a few days before, it detained more than 140 people off the coast of Andros, the largest island in the Bahamas.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is facing an acute political, economic and security crisis.

READ MORE: Boat carrying over 840 Haitians to US washes ashore in Cuba

Source: AFP