A boat packed with Somali migrants came under attack overnight off Yemen’s coast close to a strategic Red Sea strait that killed 31 people, a U.N. agency and a Yemeni medical official said Friday.
According to the International Organization for Migration, the victims carried UNHCR papers. Laurent De Boeck, the IOM chief in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, said the agency believes all the people on board the stricken vessel were refugees but it was not immediately clear where they came from in Somalia.
The SABA news agency in Yemen, run by the country’s Shiite rebels, said the attack was an airstrike that took place off the coast of Hodeida province, close to the Bab al-Mandab strait. It did not say who was behind the airstrike.
De Boeck added that 77 survivors who were pulled out of the water were taken to a detention center in Hodieda. He said the IOM is in contact with the hospital, clinics, and the detention center to provide the necessary medical care the victims.
In Geneva, IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters that he was unable to confirm news reports indicating that an Apache helicopter gunship was responsible for the attack. “Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals,” he told The Associated Press.
The Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government, has accused the Shiite Houthi rebels of using Hodeida as a smuggling route for weapons. There was no immediate comment from the coalition.
The coastal province has been under heavy airstrikes over the past two years since the coalition joined the conflict in support of the government. African migrants continue to head to Yemen, a transit point to Saudi Arabia where they seek jobs and a better life.
A Yemeni medical official in Hodeida said bodies of the dead were being retrieved from the sea and taken to the morgue of a hospital in al-Thawra. Only 14 bodies had arrived at the morgue so far, the Yemeni official said, adding that women were among the dead.
There were also 25 wounded, including those who lost arms and legs, who were brought to the hospital, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
On its Twitter account, the UNHCR said it was “appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen.”