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Haitian Smuggler Charged For Deaths At Sea; Details Emerge In Tragedy

Before their boat sank off Palm Beach last week -- drowning at least nine people, including a pregnant woman -- a group of 30 Haitian immigrants endured days drifting at sea without fuel and a harrowing journey from Nassau to a smuggler's cove in Bimini.

So says the complaint filed this morning in federal court against the boat's captain, a 33-year-old Haitian named Jimmy Metellus. He faces federal charges of alien smuggling that results in the death of another person.

Last Wednesday, a boat 16-miles off Palm Beach called the Coast Guard to report people floating in the ocean. Rescuers spent two days combing the waters, eventually rescuing 16 and recovering the nine bodies.

One survivor told ICE investigators that his journey started when his brother gave $4,000 to a man with a gold tooth in Nassau. The man promised safe passage to Bimini and then an illicit stop in Miami.

Metellus, meanwhile, told investigators that he was stranded in Haiti when his U.S. legal permanent resident card was destroyed during last summer's hurricanes. Through a smuggler named "Shine," he agreed to pilot the boat full of immigrants from Nassau to Miami in exchange for a free ride on the boat.

It's not clear what kind of nautical experience Metellus brought to the table. But for whatever reason, things quickly went wrong.

Soon after leaving the Bahamanian capital, the boat ran out of fuel. The immigrants drifted at sea for two to three days, before a small boat intercepted them and gave them more fuel. Metellus brought the boat to Bimini, where the immigrants spent the night at "Shine's" waterfront house.

The next day, the immigrants loaded back into the boat. Metellus told them to stay in the cabin for the rest of the journey. For whatever reason -- not detailed in the complaint -- the ship capsized less than 20 miles from the Palm Beach coast.

Here's maybe the most heartbreaking line in the complaint, though:

With the exception of Metellus ... all of the survivors have been determined by United States Customs and Border Protection officers to be aliens who are removable or excludable from the United States, as per the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Surviving a horrific experience like this only to be sent back to Haiti? Considering the survivors include four minors and one newborn baby, that would be a tough pill to swallow.

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