Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Survivor's ordeal on Andaman Sea

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Migrants on a boat which has no engine (Pictures: Sanjib Roy)
'Barely one-fourth of the boat people have survived the journey'

Mohammed wants to avoid detailed identification as that could mean trouble when India sends him back to his native Arakan province in Burma. So he avoids cameras.

This poor 22-year-old Rohingya Muslim from a village near Buthidaung, in Arakan province, is desperate for a new way of life - and is therefore easy prey for dubious agents who put them on the risky boat voyage to Thailand with a promise of work and good money.

Rescued by Indian coast guards from the seas east of the Little Andaman islands last week after saying he was pushed back into the sea by Thai soldiers, Mohammed is "grateful to Allah for being alive".

"Most of those pushed back into the sea by the Thai military have perished," said Mohammed, as he provided the BBC with graphic details of the operation.

"Barely one-fourth of us have survived."

The Thai military has denied setting hundreds of refugees adrift at sea last month.


Mohammed said he was in a boat with 105 people and there was another with 102, sailing side-by-side from Bangladesh before they were intercepted by the Thai navy.

Later two more boats with 208 people were intercepted similarly, he said.

"We had sailed for 12 days before we were caught. We were put on a desolate island for eight days, beaten [and then] put in a flat and open-bodied boat with no engine.

The migrants after they were rescued by the Indian coast guards (Picture: Sanjib Roy)
The migrants alleged they were beaten and some thrown into the sea

"This was towed into the high seas by the Thai navy and we were forced to board it at gunpoint," Mohammed said as he wept.

"Those who resisted were thrown into the sea by the Thai soldiers, at least four of them, their hands and legs tied," he said over a phone line from the Andamans.

"We were left with only 10kg of rice and some water in that huge boat right in the middle of a very choppy sea. Our food and water ran out on the second day and slowly we lost all power to move," Mohammed said.

He recounted the day when they first spotted a lighthouse on the coast just before sunset.

"Seeing the light, many... were afraid that the boat would be carried away by the strong current and that they would lose the land forever.

"We couldn't stop them from jumping into the sea, as they were too impatient. We saw many drowning, as none of them had any energy left to swim."

'Eaten by sharks'

At night, one Indian coast guard vessel approached their boat and rescued them, but only 98 were counted alive, says Mohammed.


"When we told the Indian coast guards that there were more than 400 on board, they launched a further search and found nine of our people alive in the sea," he said weeping, as he remembered his four friends who had jumped into the sea and disappeared.

"While sailing, we had seen sharks and I suspect many of our people were eaten by them."

Mohammed's ordeal has made him very weak and he has been put on rehydration therapy.

"For me, it is like back to heaven from hell now but I am really worried what will happen when the Indians send us back to Burma," says Mohammed.

"That will be back to hell again."

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