KEY POINTS

  • UNHCR and humanitarian groups call for the immediate rescue of the boat
  • The 90 refugees on board the stranded boat include five children under the age of two
  • The vessel started the journey on Feb.11 from the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and was on the way to Southeast Asia

A boat carrying 90 Rohingya migrants is adrift in Indian territorial waters for days without food or drinking water in the Bay of Bengal, prompting UN agencies and humanitarian groups' calls for their immediate rescue. Eight of those on board have already died, reports said. 

The boat had a satellite telephone and the crew reportedly confirmed to the humanitarian group “Arakan Project” that there are 65 women, 20 men and five children less than 2 years old on board.

The vessel started its journey on Feb. 11 from the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, and the refugee group was on its way to an undisclosed Southeast Asian country.

“Since the engines of the boat stopped working six days ago, it has been drifting from the barrel to India’s Andaman Islands,” Chris Lewa, director of the Thai Arakan Project, told  Deccan News.

Lewa also said that eight of the 90 refugees have already died. “They have no drinking water or food left, so they are drinking seawater in desperation. That is why some of them are collapsing." 

The crew told Lewa that they had seen Indian naval patrols near the area. “Only the Indian navy or coast guards in Andamans can save them,” Lewa added.

But sources from the Indian Navy said that they were “trying to ascertain the identity of a boat that seems to have drifted into Indian waters off the Andaman coast.”

United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed that the refugees are in a serious crisis that requires immediate rescue as they have run out of food and water. “Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy,” UNHCR said in the news release.

“Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours," Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, said in the news release.

The UN refugee agency also assured support to governments in the region, providing any necessary humanitarian assistance for the rescue.

“As always, saving lives must be the priority. In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status,” UNHCR added.

The Rohingya refugee crisis began in August 2017 following an alleged attack by Rohingya terrorists on the police in Western Myanmar. Thousands of them, mostly Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar, were displaced, and many sought refuge in neighboring South and Southeast Asian countries.

The reprisals by the Myanmar army led to a mass exodus of the Rohingyas, according to UN News. But most countries have not welcomed them. Bangladesh, where most of them have sought shelter, has moved thousands to camps on an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal.

Many Rohingya refugees in Indonesia enlist traffickers to help them cross the sea to neighbouring Malaysia Many Rohingya refugees in Indonesia enlist traffickers to help them cross the sea to neighbouring Malaysia Photo: MALAYSIAN MARITIME ENFORCEMENT AGENCY / Handout