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U.S. Navy divers recover more bodies from Haiti ferry wreck

September 15, 1997

MONTROUIS, Haiti (AP) _ U.S. Navy divers recovered another 34 bodies Sunday from the wreckage of a ferry that sank last week, leaving more than a hundred corpses still buried deep in the hold of the submerged boat.

Few mourners stood on the shore, which smelled of disinfectant and rotting flesh, as the bodies were brought to the ocean surface from the remains of the vessel 120 feet below.

A brass band played a funeral march and a dozen hearses drove along a dirt road leading to the pebble beach Sunday to retrieve the bodies for burial.

About 130 corpses so far have been recovered from the Pride of Gonave, which sank Sept. 8 off Montrouis after a one-hour journey from Anse-a-Galets on Gonave Island.

Authorities are unsure how many people were trapped below decks when the boat sank, so estimates of the number of victims are imprecise.

Twenty divers in teams of two plunged to the wreckage Sunday and will return Monday, said Col. Jon Stull, who is heading the U.S. recovery effort. The operation was suspended in the late afternoon as sunlight faded

Bereaved relatives are eager to claim the bodies so they can perform last rites _ which, according to the country’s voodoo religion, allows the dead to find eternal peace. But President Rene Preval claims the bodies are too decomposed to identify, and has proposed a mass grave.

U.N. officials say about 50 people survived the sinking of Pride of Gonave, which flipped over when the captain cast anchor and everyone hurried to one side to get off, some survivors claim.

Haitian officials say the 60-foot, three-story ferry was licensed to carry up to 300 passengers. But Steve Banks, a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant in Port-au-Prince, has said the boat was certified to carry only 80 people.

An official inquest has not yet begun, said Interior Minister Jean Moliere.

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