15 Rohingya Women, Children Dead as Fishing Trawler Sinks in Bay of Bengal

By Muktadir Rashid   11 February 2020

At least 15 Rohingya women and children were found dead and several dozen were rescued as a large Malaysia-bound fishing trawler carrying around 120 people capsized and sank early Tuesday morning in the Bay of Bengal near St. Martin’s Island, according to Bangladeshi rescue officials.

Bangladeshi navy commanding officer Commander Zaynal Abedin told The Irrawaddy that the incident took place between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. Tuesday and the authorities received the information later through fishermen.

“We joined the rescue operation sooner after receiving the information,” he said, and added that all the Rohingya refugees on board were heading towards Malaysia.

The navy headquarters stated that of the 15 deceased, 12 were women and three were children. Seventy-three people were rescued alive, including 24 men, 46 women and three children. There are reports that many passengers are still missing but the numbers have not been confirmed, said Bangladeshi Coast Guard Lieutenant Nayeem ul Haque, who was involved in the rescue operation.

He told The Irrawaddy that the coast guard was not sure how the trawler capsized as they found it “submerged.”

“We haven’t had the opportunity to ask survivors about the incident. We just rescued them, brought them to our facilities, administered first-aid, provided meals and they are now resting.”

The identities of the Rohingya on board, including which camp they came from, could not be confirmed, the officials said, adding that the navy and coast guard continued their search and rescue operations until 10:00 a.m.

The coast guard official said the trawler was overloaded with passengers by middlemen who lured Rohingya to travel to Malaysia by sea.

Rohingya refugees on a jetty in Teknaf Subdistrict, Cox’s Bazar after a fishing boat sank early in the morning on Feb. 11. / Supplied

“We have yet to identify the middlemen,” said Lt. Nayeem. “We learned that another similar trawler was in the area. We employed our ships and high-speed boats to trace them but did not find them.”

In Cox’s Bazar, the officer in charge of the Teknaf Subdistrict Police Station, Pradip Kumar Das, told local media that preparations were under way for the burial of bodies brought from St. Martin to Teknaf’s Shah Parir Dwip area.

Cox’s Bazar District Chief Administrator Kamal Hossain was holding a meeting with top district law enforcement officials on Tuesday and could not answer directly about the implications of the incident for security in the area.

A local journalist, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, told The Irrawaddy that he learned Rohingya from Teknaf and Ukhia subdistricts in Cox’s Bazar were preparing for the voyage on two large fishing trawlers on Monday night.

“I was rushing toward Noakhalipara in the night but I was stopped at the security checkpoint at Raju Khal on Marine Drive,” the journalist said. “There were 120 of them to a trawler and they got on board at about 1:00 a.m. from Noakhalipara in Teknaf, which has a long stretch of coast.”

Rohingya rights activist and anti-trafficking analyst Nur Khan Liton told The Irrawaddy that this sort of disaster in now common and will likely continue to occur.

“This type of tragic incident will be repeated as long as the international community cannot assure the Rohingyas better conditions, livelihoods and sustainable repatriation to Myanmar,” he said. “Basically, they are looking for better lives in Malaysia, as others like them have in the past and will continue to do in the future.”

“We all are responsible for this tragedy,” he lamented.

The incident took place on the same day that Bangladesh and other countries met for a meeting on the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. It is the fifth planning and preparedness meeting for the Bali Process and focuses on how to effectively raise regional awareness of the consequences of human smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crime.

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