Death toll crosses 100 after Gulf of Aden boat accident
ADEN, Yemen, February 16 (UNHCR) - More than 100 bodies have been found after a smuggler's boat capsized earlier this week in the Gulf of Aden - the latest casualties in the perilous voyage from Somalia to Yemen.
Late on Thursday, the government and the UN refugee agency in Yemen confirmed that 107 bodies have so far been found along a remote stretch of the Yemen coastline after one out of four boats approaching the coastline capsized far from the shore on Monday. Survivors said at least five people remain missing.
According to witnesses, the capsized smuggler's boat was carrying 120 Somalis and Ethiopians. After it overturned, a second smuggling vessel, also carrying 120 people, forced all its passengers into the sea, picked up the smugglers from the capsized vessel and headed back into the Gulf of Aden. The 240 people were left in the high seas.
Survivors said they were in the water for several hours before they were rescued by the Yemen military. A military official said rescue efforts were very difficult as the victims were drifting at least half a kilometre off the coast. The military rescue team buried 29 bodies near the beach. Many more bodies washed ashore near a road construction site between Aden and Mukalla. Workers for a construction company reported burying 78 bodies.
From the two other smuggling boats that approached Yemen on Monday, a total of 235 people made it to shore safely.
"The Somalis said they fled their homes during and following the end of recent hostilities between government forces and the Islamic Courts Union," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday. "Many said they were exposed to gunfire by militias and had their money and belongings stolen at checkpoints manned by the same militia."
He added that UNHCR has recorded the arrival of 1,776 Somalis and Ethiopians on 20 boats over the last month. The latest casualties bring to at least 136 the number of people who have died making the hazardous journey. Many are still missing. Last year, UNHCR Yemen reported that some 27,000 people made the perilous voyage, with 330 deaths and another 300 still missing.
"Every year, thousands of people cross the Gulf of Aden, the Mediterranean and other waters, fleeing persecution in their own countries or searching for better economic opportunities," said Redmond. "UNHCR has consistently tried to promote international and local action to combat the vicious smuggling practices and to focus more attention on conditions in the countries of origin that lead people to leave in the first place. Despite these efforts, the number of people leaving their homes has not decreased."