45 migrants die in boat accident off Yemen

March 1st, 2009 - 6:08 am ICT by IANS  

Sana’a (Yemen), March 1 (DPA) Forty-five Africans drowned after a boat carrying them from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden capsized in deep waters off Yemen, the country’s interior ministry said Saturday.The boat, carrying 46 would-be migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia, capsized Friday night about 95 km off the southeastern Yemeni port of Mukalla, the ministry said in a statement.

An Ethiopian passenger and three traffickers were able to get safely to shore, the ministry said. The smugglers were arrested.

The boat was making a two-day journey across the Gulf of Aden from the northern Somali port of Bossasso.

It was not clear what caused the boat to capsize.

This was the second accident involving migrants off Yemen in the course of about one week.

On Feb 20, six African migrants drowned and 11 were reported missing and presumed dead after traffickers pushed dozens of passengers overboard in deep waters off Yemen’s south-eastern coast.

Smugglers forced the 52 passengers - 40 Somalis and 12 Ethiopians - into the sea after they spotted Yemeni coast guards onshore. At least 35 people reached shore, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Many African migrants, mostly from conflict-torn Somalia, try to reach Yemen, which is seen as a gateway to Europe and the oil-rich countries of the Arabian peninsula.

Hundreds of people perish every year in the perilous exodus that takes thousands of desperate Somalis and Ethiopians to Yemen in small boats run by people traffickers operating from Somali ports.

Since the beginning of the year, 168 boats carrying 9,449 people have reached the Yemeni coast. At least 47 people died while trying to reach Yemen by sea from Somalia during the same period, according to UNHCR.

The influx of new arrivals across the Gulf of Aden since the beginning of this year is slightly higher than during the same period in 2008.

More than 50,000 migrants, the vast majority of them Somalis, resorted to traffickers for the treacherous sea crossing between Somalia and Yemen in 2008.

At least 590 people drowned and another 359 were reported missing last year as result of crossings gone wrong, often with traffickers forcing the migrants overboard, UNHCR said.

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