The United Nations refugee agency said today that 62 people are confirmed to have died when their boat foundered while trying to cross the Red Sea from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, making it the deadliest sinking this year.
"We are still seeking information, but it is now confirmed that a boat carrying 60 people from Somalia and Ethiopia and two Yemeni crew sank last Saturday in the Red Sea," Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
The victims were reportedly buried by local residents after their bodies washed ashore in Yemen's Al Jadeed area.
"The tragedy is the largest single loss of life this year of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Yemen via the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden," Mr. Edwards said.
The tragedy follows previous incidents in January, March and April, bringing the known total of deaths at sea of people trying to reach Yemen to at least 121 so far this year.
"UNHCR strongly believes that every life counts and is working to prevent the alarming loss of life at sea and indifference to people desperately needing protection," said Mr. Edwards.
"We are reiterating our call for Governments in the region to strengthen their search-and-rescue capacities, their arrangements for securing safe disembarkation of those rescued and proper identification, and assistance and referral of vulnerable people in need of protection and assistance," he added.
UNHCR stands ready to support Yemen in these activities, along with other measures to boost the protection system in the region. The agency has documented the arrival of 16,500 refugees and migrants on the Yemeni coast during the first four months of 2014, significantly less than the 35,000 received in the same period last year.
Over the past five years, more than half-a-million people (mainly Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans) have crossed the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen.
According to UNHCR, boats are overcrowded and smugglers have reportedly thrown passengers overboard to prevent capsizing or avoid detection. Search-and-rescue officials say the practice has resulted in hundreds of undocumented casualties in recent years.