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57 deaths reported in boat tragedy in Gulf of Aden

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57 deaths reported in boat tragedy in Gulf of Aden

24 February 2011

GENEVA - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is greatly saddened to have learned this week of a tragedy in the Gulf of Aden in which fifty-seven Somalis are reported to have drowned when their boat capsized. There was just one survivor.

Fifty-four of those who died were Somali refugees, while the remaining three were smugglers. The incident happened on Sunday. The only survivor swam for 23 hours before reaching Yemeni coast near the port town of Bir Ali, some 400 kilometres east of Aden. As of late Wednesday twenty-three bodies had been recovered. Based on what we know so far this is the largest loss of life in the seas between Somalia and Yemen in a single incident since January 2008. On that occasion smugglers forced 135 people into the water from a boat, causing it to capsize. One hundred and fourteen people drowned.

"We are horrified by this latest tragedy that adds to the terrible suffering of the Somali people" said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres. "The Gulf of Aden remains one of the deadliest routes for those fleeing the fatal mix of conflict, violence and human rights abuses in the Horn of Africa."

According to the survivor, a 42-year-old man who had fled fighting in Mogadishu with his wife and three children, the boat began taking on water after being struck repeatedly by strong waves. Eventually it capsized. The man told UNHCR that his family and other passengers boarded a small two-engine boat near Bosasso in northern Somalia on Friday evening. On average it takes three days for boats to cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Despite the best efforts of UNHCR's local partner Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) and the Yemeni Navy who patrolled the high seas in search of survivors, none were found.

Including the latest deaths, 89 people have drowned or gone missing in the waters between Somalia and Yemen this year.