Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney has warned residents against participating in migrant smuggling.
Rodney was speaking in the aftermath of Tuesday’s tragic boat incident which is believed to have claimed the lives of 16 African refugees who were trying to get to the US Virgin Islands from Antigua.
Three bodies have been recovered and 13 more people are still missing after La Belle Michelle capsized off the coast of St Kitts.
Local Defence Force officials confirmed to Observer yesterday that the search for more survivors had been called off.
Along with the illegal nature of such voyages, Rodney said, the risks involved are simply far too great.
“We want to use the opportunity to continue to encourage the public to know that it is a very risky behaviour to participate in anything like migrant smuggling and we can see the end result,” he told Thursday’s press conference attended by several high ranking local officials.
“We want to encourage persons to pay attention to the laws of the land. It’s against the law to participate in any form of migrant smuggling and we will continue to share that information with the general public. So, it’s not only illegal but it’s also a high risk activity,” Rodney said.
The top cop went on to share his sympathies to the loved ones of those whose lives were lost.
“I’d like to say on behalf of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda that our main mandate is always to protect lives and property, and the loss of life is very sad to us. We are saddened by the loss that we had in this incident,” the Commissioner said.
He also pledged the force’s continued efforts to investigate the boat tragedy, and called on the wider public to support those efforts, as well as preventing any similar incidents.
“We are committed to working with our local partners, our regional partners, and yes our international partners, as we investigate the circumstances of this case and we want to use this opportunity to appeal to the general public to provide any information that can assist us.
“We also want to appeal to the general public to encourage persons that they know of that might be prone to participate in incidents like that to desist from those type of activities.
“There are a number of mechanisms in place that can assist migrants in Antigua and Barbuda and we should encourage persons to use that route instead of being exploited by other persons for financial reward,” Rodney added.
Meanwhile, criminal investigations into the incident remain ongoing.
Survivors of the wreckage were found around 12 nautical miles south of St Kitts (40 nautical miles from Antigua) by a passing luxury vessel. The crew of sailing boat Genevieve managed to pull 16 people to safety.
According to reports, several were found clinging to La Belle Michelle which was described as a “weathered, fibre-glass fishing vessel”. The 30ft boat was dangerously overcrowded with around 32 people.