Sixteen people drowned and another five were feared dead while crossing the Gulf of Aden this week, including an incident in which a naval boat ignored the migrants’ cries for help, the UN refugee agency said Friday.
A first boat carrying mostly Somali refugees ran into strong winds and rough waters quickly after it set sail from Puntland on April 11. It approached the Yemeni coast the next day, but fearing interception by coastguards, smugglers kept the boat out at sea.
“The passengers, who by then were dehydrated and hungry, began crying and shouting,” said Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The Somali migrants tried to catch the attention of a cargo vessel and a foreign naval ship. However, “the naval ship approached their boat but ignored their cries for help,” said Mahecic.
“This is most disturbing,” he said.
Mahecic said he had no details on the nationality of the warship and that it was unclear at which point the warship met the refugees’ boat during their sea voyage.
“UNHCR appeals to all shipmasters in the Gulf of Aden to uphold the longstanding tradition of rescue at sea and helping vessels in distress,” said the spokesman, pointing out that the boat eventually sank, leaving 15 dead and five missing.
In a separate incident, another boat carrying mostly Ethiopians which set sail on April 11 arrived close to Yemen’s coast on April 13. However, smugglers forced the passengers into the sea even though the boat was still in deep waters.
An Ethiopian man drowned in that incident.
Some 89 people have drowned in January and February this year while making the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden, compared to 15 for the whole of 2010, the UNHCR said.