Danish ship rescues 39 people adrift in Gulf of Aden
GENEVA, September 9 (UNHCR) - A dramatic rescue at sea in which a Danish ship picked up 39 people shipwrecked in the Gulf of Aden has ended in Djibouti, where the weak and traumatised survivors are now getting help.
The rescue started on Wednesday night when the crew of the Danish ship, Eli Maersk, saw a group of people waving madly in a small white boat with an orange sail in the Gulf of Aden. Some of them were in the water. As the ship drew closer, the group screamed for food and water. Even from a distance, it was clear they were in bad shape.
The group was brought on board the 330-metre-long tanker. Several of them were so weak they had to be moved with stretchers and trolleys. The crew counted 39 people in the group, believed to be Somalis and Ethiopians, including five women and two children. One woman had just given birth in the boat; she seemed confused and unable to care for her newborn baby. Two other people were in critical condition, including a woman in coma and a severely dehydrated man who had reportedly been drinking sea water for three days. Both were put on intravenous drips, but the man died in the night.
The group said they had paid smugglers to help them cross the Gulf of Aden, and started their voyage from a small island village near Bossasso in north-eastern Somalia. But their boat engine failed mid-way, leaving them adrift in the gulf for days.
Recognising the critical medical conditions and urgent need for food, the ship's captain immediately contacted UNHCR and authorities in the region. On Thursday, the ship was given authorisation to dock in Djibouti. Two boats carrying various personnel including a medical doctor went out to receive them.
Once ashore, three people - including the mother and baby - were immediately taken to the medical facility. The rest were moved to a military facility. UNHCR was there to provide food and assistance to the new arrivals, who will be interviewed on Saturday.
"While the 39 have not asked for asylum and we're not certain of their intentions, this incident once again highlights the tragedies that are occurring all too often at sea when people pursue illegal means through smugglers to seek refuge or a better life," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
"We want to commend the government of Djibouti for receiving these people in need," he added. "We also want to thank Maersk. This is at least the second time in about three months that Maersk vessels have rescued distressed people at sea. We commend Maersk for its adherence to international law and custom, and for the humanitarian concern shown by everyone involved on the Eli Maersk and at the company itself."
Redmond pointed to an earlier incident in late May when the Clementine Maersk diverted from its schedule course to rescue 27 people in the Mediterranean Sea.
"At a time when shippers are constantly asked to cut costs and boost efficiency, it remains vital that they continue to take the time and the trouble to rescue people in peril - be they refugees or any other people in distress," said the UNHCR spokesman.