Somalis perish in new boat disaster in Gulf of Aden

Briefing Notes, 10 February 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 February 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

At least 11 people have drowned and another 34 are missing following a boat incident this week in the Gulf of Aden. Survivors found on Somali beaches on Wednesday evening explained that their boat, crewed by three smugglers and carrying 58 passengers, had set sail for Yemen last Saturday (04 February). Soon after departure, the boat's engine broke down. Without power, they were adrift for five days. The boat ultimately capsized on Wednesday in rough seas and bad weather.

Shocking details came to light yesterday (Thursday) as survivors recounted to local authorities and our partners how smugglers forced 22 passengers overboard soon after the engine failed.

UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life. Authorities in the Somali port town of Bossaso are investigating the incident and we hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

So far, 11 bodies have been recovered on beaches around the village of Ceelaayo some 30 kilometers west of Bossaso. Locals also found 13 survivors, including two women and a teenage boy and girl. Our partners, in coordination with the local authorities, organized the transport of these people from the village of Qaw to Bossaso for medical treatment. Most of them are suffering from skin burns caused by fuel inside the boat.

Every year tens of thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians fleeing violence, human rights abuses and poverty in the Horn of Africa pay smugglers to ferry them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Many never make it, as the boats capsize or smugglers beat some of the passengers to death, force them overboard, or disembark people too far from shores.

To alert people planning to cross the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, UNHCR teamed up in 2009 with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners to spread awareness about the dangers. But people still keep making the perilous crossing.

Despite growing instability and worsening security in Yemen, a record 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Horn of Africa made the journey across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in 2011.

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