MOGADISHU, Somalia – Smugglers on a boat making an illegal crossing from Somalia to Yemen forced passengers into the Red Sea at gunpoint miles from shore, leaving at least 57 dead and about 100 missing, fishermen and a diplomat said Monday.
An estimated 200 Somalis and Ethiopians, including children, left Somalia’s semiautonomous Puntland region in two boats Wednesday. Their ultimate destination was Saudi Arabia, Jama Mo’alin Omar, a fisherman in the region, said by telephone.
The 18 smugglers — who were armed with guns, daggers and clubs — appeared to be trying to avoid detection when they forced passengers into the Red Sea while the vessels were about 10 miles from the Yemeni coastline, Omar said, citing information filtering to relatives in Puntland.
Thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians try to escape poverty in their countries by crossing the Gulf of Aden each year, many hoping to reach the more affluent Europe.
Husein Haji Ahmed, a Somali diplomat in Yemen, said 57 bodies have been recovered from the shore, 38 people survived and the rest are still missing. The bodies of the drowned were immediately buried, he said.
It was unclear what happened to the smugglers.
Survivors have been given tents to erect a temporary shelter near the coast and would later be transferred to a Somali refugee center 300 miles from the area, he said.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Warlords then turned on each other, plunging the country of 7 million into chaos.