Thursday, March 06, 2008

Burma: Burmese, Bangladeshi boat-people rescued by Sri Lankan Navy after 20 bodies thrown into the sea

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71 boat-people (50 Rohingyas and 21 Bangladeshi) nationals were rescued by Sri Lankan Navy from an engine boat drifting in the Indian Ocean following an engine failure.

Among the passengers 20 people died due to lack of water and food. Of the dead, 17 were Rohingyas and three were Bangladeshis. The bodies were thrown into the sea and they are unlikely to be recovered. All the victims are in serious conditions due to prolonged dehydration and starvation, said a navy spokesman Commander. D.K.P. Dassanayake.

The vessel was drifting about 170 miles from the eastern coast of Sri Lanka when naval personnel found it around 7:30 a.m. (0200 GMT) after being tipped off by fishermen. The boat carrying 21 surviving Bangladeshi nationals and 50 Burmese was rescued in a critical condition off the Sri Lankan coast, after being marooned in the sea for almost a fortnight. The survivors---50-Rohingya (Burmese) and 21-Bangladeshi accounting for 71 boat-people---were treated by navy medical teams and are out of danger, Dassanayake said.

The Sri Lankan navy identified the rescued 71 people as 'illegal foreign job seekers' and all rescued were being transported to Trincomalee harbor.

Initial investigations revealed that the boat, which had set sail from Burma on February 9 and had been on its way to Thailand and Malaysia with 91 illegal immigrants, was drifting since February 21 after its engine stalled. It was reportedly drifting for 9 days in the Bay of Bengal .

According to survivors' accounts, the 50-foot vessel left Burma on February 9 with 91 people and developed an engine defect on February 20 before it started drifting, Dassanayake said.

He said the navy suspects the vessel could be linked to a human trafficking operation as initial investigations have revealed the passengers were heading for Malaysia or Thailand seeking employment.

A Bangladesh Foreign Ministry spokesman said last night that they will look into the matter and a high commission representative will be sent to meet the survivors soon.