St Martin’s Island (Bangladesh): At least 15 women and children drowned and more than 50 others were missing after a boat overloaded with Rohingya refugees sank Tuesday off southern Bangladesh while trying to reach Malaysia, officials said.
Some 138 people – mainly women and children – were packed on a trawler barely 13 metres (40 feet) long, trying to cross the Bay of Bengal, a coast guard spokesman said.
“It sank because of overloading. The boat was meant to carry maximum 50 people. The boat was also loaded with some cargo,” another coast guard spokesman, Hamidul Islam, added.
Seventy-one people have been rescued including 46 women. Among the dead, 11 were women and the rest children. Anwara Begum said two of her sons, aged six and seven, drowned in the tragedy. “We were four of us in the boat… Another child (son, aged 10) is very sick,” the 40-year-old said sobbing continuously.
Fishermen tipped off the coast guard after they saw survivors swimming and crying for help in the sea.
The boat’s keel hit an undersea coral in shallow water off Saint Martin’s island, Bangladesh’s southernmost territory, before it sank, survivors said.
“We swam in the sea before boats came and rescued us,” said survivor Mohammad Hossain, 20.
Coast guard commander Sohel Rana said three survivors, including a Bangladeshi, were detained over human trafficking allegations.
Nearly one million Rohingya live in squalid camps near Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar, many fleeing the neighbouring country after a 2017 brutal military crackdown.
An estimated 25,000 Rohingya left Bangladesh and Myanmar on boats in 2015 trying to get to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Hundreds drowned when overloaded boats sank.
Begum said her family paid a Bangladeshi trafficker $450 per head to be taken to Malaysia.
“We’re first taken to a hill where we stayed for five days. Then they used three small trawlers to take us to a large trawler, which sank,” she said.