Bodies of three African migrants found off Yemen coast

Coast guards have retrieved the bodies of three of dozens of African migrants feared drowned off south Yemen.

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Yemeni coast guards have retrieved the bodies of three African migrants, believed to be among dozens drowned off south Yemen, a Red Crescent official said today.

"Three bodies were found Tuesday morning in the coastal region of Zubab" in Yemen's southern province of Taez, said Abdul Wahab al-Gharbani, secretary general of the Red Crescent in Taez.

Mr Gharbani, who said he was "surprised" at the number of victims the ministry of interior announced yesterday, insisted that 46 people, mostly Ethiopians, were on board the boat which capsized near Bab al-Mandab strait that links the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Five migrants who survived have been giving accounts of the accident to security officials at Bab al-Mandab, he said.

Yemen's interior ministry said yesterday that "80 Africans, mostly Ethiopian, drowned after their two boats were capsized".

"The accident was caused by high winds and a tsunami which capsized the two boats taking them towards the coast," the statement said, quoting the coast guard in the southern port city of Aden.

But Gharbani said only one boat had overturned. "We have no information about a similar incident and we are now following up with the organisation's (Red Crescent) international committee to search for those missing," he said.

A Bab al-Mandab security official yesterday put the number of people missing at 35, confirming that only one boat overturned and that five passengers, whom he said are Ethiopians, had survived. Two Yemeni people smugglers also survived, he said.

The official, who would not be named, said the accident was caused by engine damage.

Each year tens of thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis make the perilous crossing to Yemen in the hope of escaping the economic deprivation, persecution and conflicts of their home countries.

Many die on board often overcrowded and rotten small boats, while others, already weakened by long journeys from the hinterland to the coast, die at the hands of ruthless smugglers.

The migrants generally slip by boat into south Yemen, itself one of the world's poorest countries, before heading towards the border with Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said last April that the exodus of Somalis across the Gulf of Aden had slowed dramatically since the start of 2010, despite recurring violence in Somalia.