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65 dead or missing in the latest smuggling incidents in the Gulf of Aden

Briefing notes

65 dead or missing in the latest smuggling incidents in the Gulf of Aden

15 September 2009

Sixteen people died and 49 others are missing and presumed dead in three separate incidents involving smuggling boats in the Gulf of Aden over the last 48 hours.

The first incident took place early Sunday morning off the coast of Radfan, some 150 km east of the Mayfa'a reception centre. The passengers reported that the vessel, carrying 142 people, capsized as the smuggling crew jumped over board after being unable to fix an engine failure. 98 people managed to swim ashore while 43 others are missing and presumed dead. According to survivors, one person was reported to have suffocated in the engine room. Passengers said that the boat departed on Thursday morning from the Somali town of Elayo, west of Bossasso. One survivor told UNHCR that passengers were repeatedly beaten and threatened by the smugglers during the journey.

In the second incident, involving a smuggling boat reportedly carrying 112 Africans, 13 people lost their lives at the hands of smugglers. Passengers reported that 13 people, mostly non-Somalis nationals, had been accommodated in the engine room upon departure from the Somali village of Marera on Thursday night. According to one of the survivors, three people were beaten to death by the smugglers and another 10 died as a result of asphyxiation. The boat reached Yemen on Sunday morning off the coast of Al Hamra, some 180 km east of Mayfa'a reception centre.

A third incident was reported by an EU-warship, the Louise Marie of Belgium, which reported sighting a small boat sinking in deep waters. The ship's crew was able to rescue 38 people from the vessel, though survivors said the boat had originally been carrying 46 people. Rescue helicopters launched from the EU vessel spotted two bodies in nearby waters. Another 6 people are missing and presumed drowned.

The authorities in Yemen agreed to allow the rescued passengers to disembark this morning at the port of Mulkalla, 500 kilometers east of Aden.

UNHCR staff in Yemen report an increasing number of larger smuggling vessels making the journey across the Gulf of Aden, which puts more lives at risk.

So far this year, a total of 860 boats and 43,586 people have made the journey to Yemen from the Horn of Africa, a region scarred by civil war, political instability, famine and poverty. Some 273 people have drowned or are missing at sea and presumed dead.