U.S. authorities gave starkly different accounts of what happened on the high seas this week when an overloaded vessel of Haitian migrants trying to reach the U.S. mainland was intercepted by Coast Guard officials.
U.S. embassy officials in Port-au-Prince said in a statement that armed smugglers partially thwarted U.S. Coast Guard officials by holding more than 60 passengers at gunpoint as they fled an area near the Haitian barrier island of La Tortue.
The smugglers, who were armed with pistols, had threatened the other migrants who were attempting to climb aboard the Coast Guard ship, according to embassy officials.
But the U.S. Coast Guard reported that it sent 35 migrants back to Haiti on Wednesday after discovering the wayward boat on Monday. They said there was no report of the smugglers being armed with any pistols.
In their statement, which was issued in French from Port-au-Prince, embassy officials said the ship fled from Coast Guard authorities with 60 migrants still aboard. They reaffirmed that "we are sure [the alleged smugglers] had weapons."
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mari Tolliver referred further questions to Haiti's national police, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Haitian National Police are in charge of the investigation.
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