Nine drown in latest smuggling mishap off Yemen coast

Nine people drown off Yemen after smugglers force Ethiopian and Somali passengers to disembark in deep water because they fear arrest.

Somalis wait to be picked up after reaching Yemen. People continue to die making the crossing from the Horn of Africa.   © Paul Hansen/Dagens Nyheter

ADEN, Yemen, March 26 (UNHCR) - Nine people drowned earlier this week off the coast of Yemen after smugglers forced Ethiopian and Somali passengers to disembark in deep water because they feared arrest.

The latest tragedy in the Gulf of Aden came just two days after at least seven people died in Aden on Saturday evening when their vessel capsized after being towed to the harbour by a French warship.

In Monday's incident, smugglers carrying 92 Ethiopians and Somalis approached the south-central Yemen coast near the town of Ahwar, some 250 kilometres east of Aden.

They offloaded 36 passengers when they were about 100 metres offshore, but then returned to deeper water because they were worried about being arrested by Yemeni police. The smugglers then forced the remaining 56 passengers to jump into the sea, before heading back towards Somalia.

Nine bodies were recovered and buried in a local cemetery by a local aid group. The 83 survivors were transported to Ahwar Reception Centre, where the Médecins Sans Frontières aid agency provided them with water, high nutrition biscuits and medical assistance.

Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR's representative in Yemen, said the loss of life was tragic, while adding: "We are very concerned that this trend may continue in the future."

A total of 268 boats and 14,486 people are known to have made the perilous Gulf of Aden crossing from the Horn of Africa to the Yemen coast since the beginning of this year. To date, 65 people are reported dead and 36 missing at sea. Those who make the crossing are fleeing a desperate situation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, a region scarred by civil war, political instability, famine and poverty.

By Rocco Nuri in Aden, Yemen