Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - Page 5 News List

India searches for missing migrants

AGENCIES , NEW DELHI AND PORT BLAIR, INDIA

More than 300 illegal migrants were feared to have drowned off India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, police and officials said yesterday.

Two Indian navy ships have joined coastguard vessels searching for the missing men, officials said.

“We are looking for them in all possible places near the south of Little Andaman as we think there could be more survivors,” Andamans defense spokesman Mannu Virk said in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

“We will continue our search and rescue operation in all the islands,” he said.

Survivors said the men swam for shore after drifting for weeks in a small boat with little food or water and only a plastic sheet for a sail.

“The survivors said they saw a lighthouse late at night and thought they had reached the shore,” Ashok Chand, a senior police officer, said in Port Blair.

“Nearly 300 jumped into the sea, one following the other, causing the deaths it seems,” he said.

Authorities in Port Blair said the men were mostly Bangladeshis and some Myanmar nationals, aged between 18 and 60.

Setting sail for Malaysia in six boats 45 days ago, the would-be migrants soon became lost and drifted through the Bay of Bengal.

Coastguard officials said on Sunday 88 men from an original group of 412 had been rescued from a boat found near Little Andaman island, about 90km south of Port Blair.

Yesterday they put the number of survivors at 102.

Two more bodies were found yesterday, taking to seven the number recovered since the boat was discovered on Thursday.

Survivors told authorities that seven others had died at sea and their bodies had been dumped overboard.

The coastguard is investigating how the men drifted into Indian waters, and how the survivors came to be in one boat.

According to survivors, there were a total of 412 people on six boats which were spotted by the Thai Navy after they reached Thai waters.

The migrants were detained for about four weeks and later put on non-mechanized boats with some bags of rice in the high seas to reach home, survivors told Indian officials.

They were drifting in the Bay of Bengal for 12 days before they reached the vicinity of the island group, some 1,200km off the Indian mainland.

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