Haitians await word on missing ship Relatives feared lost in attempt to flee country

January 12, 1993|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI -- The phone in the Haitian Refugee Center rang all day with calls from people frantic to find out whether their relatives were on a freighter lost at sea with 388 refugees.

Thaleus Ajean sobbed quietly as he stood in line at the building in Little Haiti, hoping someone could give him reason to hope.

"My brother, 12-year-old niece, brother-in-law and two close cousins were on that boat," he said. "I just came here to find out who are the survivors."

Tears streamed down his cheeks as he talked. A stranger seated in the same small waiting room, unable to avoid hearing Mr. Ajean's story, began to cry too.

While there was no official word on the ship's fate, the Coast Guard yesterday requested more information from Cuban authorities who reported picking up eight people who said they had survived the sinking of the freighter. They said the Vierge Miracle went down the night of Dec. 21 in the Bahamas.

The Coast Guard had contacted the Cuban Border Guard after receiving a call from a man who said his son was overdue on a vessel that left Haiti on Dec. 19, bound for Miami.

In a separate action, the Coast Guard yesterday returned 226 other Haitians to their country after plucking them from a "dangerously overloaded" sailboat intercepted on Saturday off Great Inagua.

[Aides to President-elect Bill Clinton are working to avert an exodus from Haiti, the Washington Post reported today.

[They are trying to get U.N. observers stationed in Haiti as well as seeking to persuade deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to appeal to his countrymen to stay home, the newspaper said.]

Mr. Ajean learned that his relatives had left Haiti aboard the Vierge Miracle from an uncle who was among 352 refugees aboard a freighter that made it to Miami last week.

"I can't believe it. Even my daughter said, 'All my family died and I never even met them,'" said Mr. Ajean, 42, who immigrated to the United States 18 years ago.

His brother and only sibling was 28, a college graduate with a degree in philosophy, Mr. Ajean said.

Camelia Lubin called the center for information about her daughter, a 24-year-old schoolteacher.

"Relatives in Haiti called and asked if she'd not arrived yet," Ms. Lubin said in Creole through an interpreter. "I'm sure it was the same boat."

Ms. Lubin, 44, a legal permanent resident, said she applied for a visa for her daughter five years ago. Apparently she could wait no longer, the mother said.

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