News / Africa

Deadly Sailing Season Begins in Gulf of Aden

The U.N. refugee agency says the sailing season in the Gulf of Aden has got off to a deadly start.  The UNHCR says it has received reports this week of a killing and the drowning of African migrants traveling on smugglers' boats from Somalia to Yemen.  

The sailing season across the Gulf of Aden resumes in September once the monsoon season ends.  That is when the smugglers navigate rickety boats loaded with desperate people from Somalia and Ethiopia across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.  

That is also when tragic stories of death by drowning or at the hands of smugglers begin to surface.  U.N. refugee spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says his agency has received reports of an Ethiopian man who was beaten to death and thrown overboard by smugglers.

He says the boat, which arrived in Yemen on Wednesday, was carrying 105 African migrants and refugees, mostly Ethiopians.

"The victim had been sitting below the deck in stifling conditions and was beaten and locked in the engine room after begging for water.  He died and then was thrown overboard," he said. "The boat he was on took some 50 hours to sail from the Somali village of Shimbrale, which is east of Bossaso in Somalia to Yemen.  On Monday, two Somali women, one of them five-months pregnant, were reported to have drowned off the coast of Yemen's Shabwa region, as smugglers disembarked passengers too far from the shore despite rough seas.  Another person is missing and presumed dead."  

According to new arrivals, there were 55 Somalis aboard the boat.  

Meanwhile, Mahecic says a separate dramatic story is unfolding on Yemen's Red Sea coast, west of Aden.  Since June, he says more than 40 corpses of Ethiopians arriving from Djibouti have been discovered along the Yemeni Red Sea shore.

In addition, he says a growing number of Ethiopian arrivals have been found to be suffering violent diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.

"These Ethiopians began their sea voyage in Obock in Djibouti and have told our staff that people die in Obock daily, suffering severe diarrhea," he said.  "They say that Ethiopians arrive in Obock exhausted after walking for two days from the border.  They are then held there by the Somali and Djiboutian smugglers, sometimes left for days or weeks without any food or drinking water.  According to the new arrivals from Ethiopia, eight of ten wells in Obock are contaminated and the other two hold salty water.  Hunger, dehydration, salty water and severe diarrhea appear to be the main causes of these deaths."  

So far this year, the UNHCR reports more than 32,000 African migrants have arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa aboard 677 smuggling boats.  

It says some 50 migrants or refugees fleeing situations of conflict, instability, drought and poverty have lost their lives while making this perilous journey.

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