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At least 52 Somalis die in smuggling attempt

  • Story Highlights
  • Somalis were left adrift with no food or water for 18 days, U.N. officials say
  • Of more than 100 passengers, 71 survive attempt to reach Yemen
  • Survivors say boat left Somali coast September 3, then engine stopped
  • Yemen coast guard vessel towed stricken boat to shore
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(CNN) -- At least 52 Somalis died when the boat smuggling them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen broke down, and they were left adrift with no food or water for 18 days, U.N. officials said Sunday.

Seventy-one people -- ages 2 to 40 -- survived the ordeal after the vessel drifted into Yemeni coastal waters September 21. They were rescued by coast guardsmen in Shihr, according to a news release from the San'a, Yemen, office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Survivors of the ordeal said they left Somalia because of drought, unemployment and other insecurity in the war-torn nation. Each passenger paid the smugglers between $70 and $100 for the voyage, the UNHCR said.

The survivors said the boat left Marera on the Somali coast September 3 with about 124 passengers. After several hours, the engine stopped.

"The knife-wielding crew of the smuggling boat told passengers they would travel to the Somali city of Bossaso in a smaller boat to recharge a battery and then return as soon as possible," the UNHCR said. "They never returned."

Forty-eight of the Somalis, 38 men and 10 women, died while the boat drifted in the Gulf of Aden. Survivors said their bodies were thrown overboard. Four of the survivors who were hospitalized died at a medical center.

After a current and high waves carried the boat toward Yemen's Shihr coast, three people aboard jumped into the sea to swim toward shore and alert authorities. One failed to make it and remains missing.

A Yemen coast guard vessel towed the stricken boat to shore, where the passengers were met by staff from the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, who provided food and water.

"The latest tragedy coincides with a recent upsurge in people smuggling across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia," the UNHCR said.

So far this year, at least 31,192 people have arrived in Yemen aboard smugglers' boats, according to the UNHCR. More than 228 Somalis and Ethiopians have died, and 262 are missing.

Smuggling normally subsides between May and September because of stormy weather in the Gulf of Aden.

The UNHCR believes the increase in arrivals stems from displacements in Somalia, the opening of new smuggling routes across the gulf, and smugglers who believe there is less coastal surveillance during the holy month of Ramadan.

All About SomaliaGulf of AdenYemen

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