Rohingya boat capsizes in Bay of Bengal; at least 16 dead

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (AP) — An overcrowded boat carrying about 125 Rohingya refugees from Bangladeshi camps sank early yesterday in the Bay of Bengal, leaving at least 16 dead, Bangladeshi officials said yesterday.

The coast guard, navy divers and other rescuers recovered the bodies of 14 women, one child and a man after the wooden boat capsized off St Martin’s Island, the top elected official on the island told The Associated Press.

Noor Ahmed told AP by phone from the scene that some 62 refugees on the boat survived. They were wooed by traffickers to get on the boat from various points as it was heading for Malaysia, he said.

Iqbal Hossain, additional police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar, said by phone the overcrowding of the boat had caused it to capsize and that it may have been carrying additional cargo as well.

Hossain said the bodies were sent to nearby Shah Porir island and the rescue operation was continuing. But he would not give an exact figure about how many still remained missing.

Traffickers usually lure refugees by promising a better life overseas. Many past attempts to travel illegally by boats were thwarted by coast guards.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar to flee a harsh crackdown by Myanmar’s military since August 2017. Myanmar has long claimed the Rohingya are migrants from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless.

File photo shows members of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority walking past rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh near Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf area. PHOTO: AP