Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Gulf of Aden deaths

Briefing notes

Gulf of Aden deaths

15 February 2007

Late yesterday, we received confirmation that 107 bodies have so far been found along a remote stretch of the Yemen coastline following an incident on Monday involving the capsizing of a smuggler's boat that had crossed the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.

The government and UNHCR's office in Yemen report that 107 bodies have been buried and five people remain missing from two boats - among four that approached the coastline on Monday. Witnesses said the boat which capsized well offshore was carrying 120 Somalis and Ethiopians. A second smuggling vessel, also carrying 120 people, forced all its passengers into the sea when the first boat capsized. The second boat then picked up the smugglers from the capsized vessel and headed back out into the Gulf of Aden, leaving 240 people in the high seas.

According to survivor accounts, the people were in the water for several hours before the Yemen military came to their rescue. A military official said the victims were drifting at least half a kilometre off the coast, which made rescue efforts very difficult. 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.

A total of 235 people on the two other smuggling boats that approached Yemen on Monday made it to shore safely.

Over the last month, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of 1,776 Somalis and Ethiopians on 20 boats. With the latest casualties, at least 136 died making the hazardous journey and many are still missing.

The Somalis said they fled their homes during and following the end of recent hostilities between government forces and the Islamic Courts Union. Many said they were exposed to gunfire by militias and had their money and belongings stolen at checkpoints manned by the same militia.

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. 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.