At least seven Africans drowned over the weekend when the smugglers’ boat they were travelling in capsized shortly after docking in the Yemeni port of Aden, the United Nations refugee agency has reported, adding that 85 passengers survived thanks to rescue efforts by local officials and the French Navy.
The incident occurred on Saturday as passengers tried to disembark from the boat, which had just been towed to the Yemeni coast by a French frigate that on Thursday had found it adrift and taking on water in the Gulf of Aden.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the French sailors stopped the leak and then towed the boat, which was carrying 104 people, to Aden. As it docked, “the frightened passengers all rushed at the same time to disembark, causing the vessel to founder because of the sudden shift in balance,” the agency said in a press release.
French sailors and the Yemeni coastguard rescued 85 passengers, which included Somalis and Ethiopians, and four of the smugglers, who were later arrested. In addition to the seven that drowned, five people are missing and presumed dead.
“We are grateful to the French Navy and the Yemeni authorities, including port officials and the coastguard, for the rescue operation,” said Leila Nassif, the head of UNHCR’s sub-office in Aden. “As soon as the boat overturned, we saw everyone jump in the water and no effort was spared to save lives.”
According to UNHCR, some 260 boats and 13,250 people have made the dangerous voyage across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa to Yemen so far this year, with 54 people reported dead and 36 missing at sea.