PHILIPSBURG–Seventeen undocumented Haitian immigrants were greeted by the Immigration Service, Customs and the Coast Guard on attempting to enter St. Maarten without visas on Saturday. It is believed their transportation was arranged at same time as the regatta so their entry on the island might go unnoticed.
The Coast Guard initially received an emergency call from a ship some 50 miles off the coast of St. Maarten. The Coast Guard ship Poema investigated and it was found that the ship, which was destined for St. Maarten, had run out of fuel. As the ship was too large to be towed by the Poema, the St. Maarten Coast Guard asked the American Coast Guard to assist.
On their arrival it appeared that this was the second time the ship had run out of fuel and that when the Americans had arrived the first time they had conducted checks on the ship and its passengers and found that a man who was believed to be one of the captains was wanted by the American authorities. The man was arrested. The ship was provided with fuel and the second captain took command of the ship, continuing its journey.
During this second request for assistance, the Poema left when the Americans arrived. The ship was refuelled a second time before continuing to St. Maarten.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard had noticed that the ship carried, aside from the captain, 17 Haitians. The crew contacted their on-duty officer, who informed the Immigration and Border Control Service and Customs. When the ship arrived in Great Bay, it was kept outside the harbour by the harbourmaster and Immigration, Customs and Coast Guard officers boarded the ship, along with officers of the Maritime Inspection Department.
It was discovered that the Haitians had valid passports, but no visas, and that they appeared to be under the impression they were entering St. Maarten legally. Landing was denied to them and the Immigration Officers received assistance from the police to arrest the remaining captain of the ship for attempting to smuggle the Haitians into the country.
Immigration and Border Control Service head Geronimo Juliet explained that although the Haitians officially had been denied landing, they could not remain on the ship. They were taken ashore and had their passports held as a guarantee. The Haitians are allowed to stay on the island until their repatriation can be arranged and are under supervision of the Immigration and Border Control Service.
Coast Guard Head of Operations Wendell Thode, who was the on-duty officer at the time of the incident, said, “I had a bad feeling, despite the fact that the American Coast Guard had checked out the ship. We contacted all the services to check out the ship again on arrival in St. Maarten.
“This is another example of a great cooperation between the various services, including the harbourmaster. Despite the early hours of the morning, everything was in place and every one of the services did what they had to do to bring this incident to a good conclusion.”
The incident is not linked to the airplane and the large sum of cash that were seized at Princess Juliana International Airport on the same day.
DAILY HERALD ST MAARTEN-I’M COVERING CARNIVAL 🙂