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Scores of Smuggling Victims Dead or Missing in Gulf Of Aden

The U.N. refugee agency says 65 people are dead or missing and presumed dead in three separate incidents involving smuggling boats in the Gulf of Aden during the past 48 hours.

These tragic events are just the latest in a long string of incidents affecting people from the Horn of Africa. People in this region, scarred by civil war, political instability, famine and poverty, willingly risk their lives in search of a better future.

In the first incident, which took place early Sunday, a vessel carrying 142 people reportedly capsized as the smuggling crew jumped over board after failing to fix an engine.

U.N. refugee chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming says 98 people managed to swim ashore while 43 others are missing and presumed dead.

"According to survivors, one person was reported to have suffocated in the engine room. Passengers said that the boat departed on Thursday morning from the Somali town of Elayo, west of Bossasso," Fleming said. "One survivor told UNHCR that passengers were repeatedly beaten and threatened by the smugglers during the journey. In the second incident, involving a smuggling boat reportedly carrying 112 Africans, 13 people lost their lives at the hands of smugglers."

Fleming says passengers on this vessel also were brutally treated by the smugglers. She says three people were beaten to death by the smugglers and another 10 died as a result of asphyxiation. She says 38 people in a third boat had a lucky escape.

She says an EU warship sighted a small boat sinking in deep waters and came to its rescue. But eight other people were not so lucky. She says rescue helicopters launched from the EU vessel spotted two bodies in nearby waters. Another six people are missing and presumed drowned.

UNHCR spokeswoman Fleming says it appears this lethal trade is expanding.

"UNHCR staff in Yemen report an increasing number of large smuggling vessels packed with larger numbers of people making the journey across the Gulf of Aden and putting more lives at risk," Fleming said.

The UNHCR reports 860 boats and more than 43,500 people have made the perilous journey to Yemen from the Horn of Africa this year. It says more than 270 people have drowned or are missing at sea and presumed dead.