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 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 13:12 GMT
Somali boat tragedy 'kills 80'
Somali refugees arriving in Eden, 1993
Thousands undertake the perilous journey every year
At least 80 people, mostly Somalis, are reported to have died when their boat caught fire on its way to Yemen.

It seems some people panicked and jumped from the overloaded boat

James Alemi, UNHCR
Survivors told the BBC that the boat capsized after it caught fire, leaving them adrift for eight days.

None of the children on board are reported to have survived.

This is one of the worst known tragedies in the Gulf of Aden which separates Somalia and Yemen.

Fleeing anarchy

James Alemi, a local official for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said a passing vessel rescued 23 Somalis and Ethiopians from the boat which was carrying up to 120 people.

"According to those rescued, there was an explosion in the engine room which caused a fire. It seems some people panicked and jumped from the overloaded boat," he told Reuters news agency.

The Somalis, together with about 20 Ethiopians, were taken from the town of Bossaso in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, by agents who arranged their voyage to Yemen.

The voyage is said to take four to five days, and costs around $500 per person.

Correspondents say the tragedy is only the latest to befall Somalis attempting to reach Yemen, before going on to Saudi Arabia.

In November last year up to 30 Ethiopians and Somalis were believed to have died off the coast of Djibouti as they tried to emigrate to Yemen.

In April last year, more than 90 people were reported to have drowned when their boat sank on its way from Somalia to Yemen.

And in 2001, a boat captain was arrested for allegedly ordering at least 86 Somalis to jump into the sea after his ship developed engine trouble.

Thousands of Somalis have attempted the dangerous journey.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, when Siad Barre was overthrown.

A peace conference between rival warlords currently being held in neighbouring Kenya has failed to end 11 years of anarchy and fighting.


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18 May 01 | Africa
12 Aug 02 | Africa
29 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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