At Least 112 Somalis, Ethiopians Die in Capsized Smuggling Boat Off Yemen

More bodies washed ashore after a smuggling boat carring Somali and Ethiopian migrants to Yemen capsized in the Gulf of Aden this week, bringing the death toll to at least 112, a Yemeni official said Friday.

The boat was among a group of four boats carrying migrants trying to make a treacherous night crossing from theHorn of Africa to Yemen, a U.N. official and a Yemeni human rights activist said.

When the boat capsized late Monday, smugglers in the other boats forced their passengers to jump into the sea so the smugglers could return quickly to their departure point, said the human rights activist, whose group helped survivors from the capsizing. The activist spoke on condition his name and organization not be identified because he feared problems with the government.

At least 169 survivors made it to shore in the coastal region of Shabwa province, east of Aden, the UNHCR said. Bodies also washed ashore in the region and were buried in several mass graves by residents.

"The bodies were in a very bad condition, as many of them were missing limbs or mutilated because they were crashing against stones," Mohammed bin Mubarak, a Shabwa resident who helped bury 10 bodies, told the Associated Press by telephone from the region.

In Geneva, Ron Redmond, spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said 107 bodies have been confirmed buried.

But an official in Shabwa's provincial council said between 112 and 115 had been found dead so far. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Many of the survivors from this week's capsizing said they were fleeing violence in Somalia, where government forces recently battled a radical Islamic movement with the help of troops from neighboring Ethiopia, according to the UNHCR.

The boat sunk far off the Yemeni coast, leaving the migrants drifting in the high seas, Redmond said. "The people were in the water for several hours before the Yemeni military came to their rescue," he told reporters in Geneva, where UNHCR has its headquarters.

So far, 169 survivors from the boats reached the Shabwa shores and registered at Kharza refugee camp, the only camp for Somalian and Ethiopian migrants, said an UNHCR official at the camp. Among them were 65 women, said the official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The tragedy highlights the plight of thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians who try to escape to the Arabian peninsula each year, many hoping to eventually reach Europe. UNHCR says more than 27,000 fled last year and several hundred died making the perilous crossing.

Conditions on the smugglers' vessels are notoriously poor. Witnesses have previously reported people being thrown overboard.

Yemen has recently increased coastal patrols, forcing smugglers to make the journey across the Gulf of Aden by night, making it more dangerous.