At least 15 refugees drown after boat sinks off Bangladesh

AFP Saint Martin's Island, Bangladesh Feb 12, 2020, 01.55 PM(IST)

Representative image Photograph:( Reuters )

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Among the dead 11 were women and the rest children.

At least 15 women and children drowned and more than 50 others were missing after a boat overloaded with Rohingya refugees sank off southern Bangladesh as it tried to reach Malaysia Tuesday, officials said.

Some 138 people mainly women and children were packed on a trawler barely 13 metres long, trying to cross the Bay of Bengal, a coast guard spokesman told AFP.

Also read: Rohingyas drown as refugee boat capsizes off Bangladesh

"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. 

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.

With few opportunities for jobs and education in the camps, thousands have tried to reach other countries like Malaysia and Thailand by attempting the hazardous 2,000-kilometre journey.

In the latest incident, 71 people have been rescued including 46 women. Among the dead, 11 were women and the rest children.

Also read: Bangladesh police 'rescue' dozens of Rohingya being trafficked to Malaysia

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 told said.

Fishermen tipped off the coast guard after they saw survivors swimming and crying for help in the sea.

The boat's keel hit 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.

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.