52 Somalis Die in Attempt To Reach Yemen From Gulf

Associated Press
Monday, September 29, 2008

SANAA, Yemen, Sept. 28 -- At least 52 Somalis died after smugglers abandoned them on a boat in the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden, the U.N. refugee agency said Sunday. Seventy-one people survived the 18-day ordeal.

The boat broke down within hours of leaving Somalia on Sept. 3, bound for Yemen and carrying more than 100 Somalis, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. The crew abandoned the boat for another craft and never returned for the refugees, who threw bodies overboard as fellow passengers died, the UNHCR said.

The boat eventually drifted close enough to southern Yemen that three passengers tried to swim ashore. Two alerted rescuers; the third never made it.

The Yemeni coast guard rescued the survivors Sept. 21, the statement said.

Hundreds of Africans die every year trying to reach Yemen, with many drowning or being killed by pirates and smugglers in the waters separating Somalia and the Arabian peninsula. Those who survive the journey register with the U.N. refugee agency and stay in refugee camps in Yemen, while others take jobs in the cities as laborers for less than a $1 a day.

In a separate incident, a Somali pirate spokesman said his group was demanding a $20 million in ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks as a heavily armed U.S. destroyer patrolled nearby. He warned that the pirates would fight to the death if any country attempted military action to regain the ship, and a man who said he was the ship's captain reported that one crew member had died.

Pirates seized the Ukrainian-operated ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday as it headed to Kenya carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial amount of ammunition and spare parts. The ordnance was ordered by the Kenyan government.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Howard was stationed off the Somali coast Sunday, making sure that the pirates did not remove the tanks, ammunition and other heavy weapons from the ship. A spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet said the Navy remained "deeply concerned" over the fate of the ship's 21-member crew and cargo.

The Americans appeared to be keeping an eye on the Faina until the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, reaches the area.

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