Eight dead and 22 missing in latest Gulf of Aden tragedy

Briefing Notes, 7 April 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 April 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Eight people drowned and another 22 are missing and presumed dead in the Gulf of Aden as a result of two different smuggling incidents over the weekend off the coast of Yemen's Hadramout region, some 600 km east of Aden.

The first boat, reportedly carrying 40 Somalis, capsized Saturday evening as passengers started disembarking off the Yemen coast, some 80 km east of Mayfa'a, where UNHCR operates a reception centre. Twenty people made it to shore near Rass al Kalb, where one of UNHCR's partners, the Society for Human Solidarity (SHS), provided them with water and food before transporting them to Mayfa'a for further assistance and registration. No bodies were recovered and the status of those missing remains unknown. Survivors said the smuggler's boat had departed from Marera, east of the Somali town of Bossasso.

A second tragedy occurred late Sunday afternoon off the coast of Rujeema, 120 km east of Mayfa'a. Survivors said eight people died and two were missing and presumed dead after their boat carrying 23 passengers hit rough seas and the vessel began taking on water. Witnesses said some of the deaths were due to suffocation after the smugglers covered the passenger area with a tarpaulin to prevent water from getting in. Thirteen people made it to shore near Rujeema. They were given first aid by SHS and then transferred to Mayfa'a reception centre. Survivors said the vessel had departed from the Somali town of Elayo, west of Bossasso.

So far this year, a total of 339 boats and 17,035 people have arrived in Yemen after making the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. To date, 74 people have reportedly died and 51 are missing at sea. Those who make the crossing are fleeing desperate situations of civil war, political instability, poverty and famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.