100 Somalis feared dead off Yemen coast

Migrants, believed to be mainly Somalis, are feared dead after being forced overboard by smugglers, a UN agency says.

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GENEVA // About 100 migrants believed to be mainly Somalis are missing and feared dead after being forced overboard by smugglers off the coast of Yemen, the United Nations refugee agency said today. Survivors of the latest tragic crossing reported that a smuggling boat carrying about 150 passengers had left the Somali port of Marera near Bossaso on Monday and spent three days crossing the Gulf of Aden, it said.

Most passengers were forced overboard about five kms from the Yemeni shore, and many are feared to have drowned, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. "Survivors said they counted a total of 47 people reaching the beach and later saw Yemeni authorities burying five bodies," the UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing. Most of the migrants were believed to be Somalis, although some boats have also transported Ethiopian or Eritrean migrants from Somalia, he said.

About 32,000 people have arrived from war-torn Somalia in Yemen so far this year after making the perilous voyage aboard smugglers' boats, according to the agency. At least 230 people have died and an estimated 365 remain missing, including those from the latest incident, it said. Piracy is also rife off Somalia, which has been mired in anarchy since 1991. Gunmen have boarded more than 30 vessels this year and received sizeable ransoms.

A ship laden with cement was hijacked last night in the waters between Somalia and Yemen, a Somali government official said today. The Nato military alliance decided on Thursday to join anti-piracy operations along Somalia's 3,300 km (2,060 mile) coastline. *Reuters