Bahamas police: Captain in Haitian migrant boat tragedy previously convicted in U.S., Cuba

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Scenes from that deadly smuggling operation where 17 migrants died.

FLA. | The captain of a twin-engine 30-foot speedboat that capsized in the waters off New Providence in the Bahamas on Sunday while ferrying Haitian migrants to Miami had been previously convicted of human smuggling in the U.S. and drug trafficking in Cuba, the head of Bahamian police said Wednesday. Speaking at a press conference in Nassau, Bahamian Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander said that authorities had finished a background check on the man, whom he did not name.

The man, he said, spent two years in prison in the United States and eight years imprisoned in Cuba.

Sources have told the Miami Herald that the boat captain who is in custody is a Bahamian national named Donald Nehemiah Watson, 39. In 2019, he was charged with one count of smuggling after officials with U.S. Border Patrol and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit encountered his vessel east of West Palm Beach.

After a pursuit at top speed, the boat ran out of fuel and Watson, who was captain, was arrested along with Travis Jamaal Moss, an undocumented Bahamian national who had been previously expelled from the U.S.

According to court records, Watson was still on probation after being convicted of human smuggling in 2019 in federal court in West Palm Beach. Fernander said three people who were arrested for having arranged the trip, in which at least 17 people died, are looking at a host of charges including homicide, manslaughter and operating an unregistered vessel.