57 drowned in Somalia during illegal crossing

At least 57 people drowned and dozens more were feared dead after the crew of a boat making an illegal crossing from Somalia to Yemen forced them from the boat at gunpoint several kilometers (miles) from shore.

An estimated 200 Somalis and Ethiopians, including children, left Somalia's semiautonomous Puntland region in two boats Wednesday. Their ultimate destination was Saudi Arabia, Jama Mo'alin Omar, a fisherman in the region, said by telephone Monday.

The 18 smugglers, who were armed with guns, daggers and clubs, appeared to be trying to avoid detection when they forced passengers into the Red Sea while the vessels were about 15 kilometers from the Yemeni coastline, Omar said, citing information filtering to relatives in Puntland.

Husein Haji Ahmed, a Somali diplomat in Yemen, said 57 bodies have been recovered from the shore, 38 people were confirmed to have survived the ordeal and the rest are still missing.

The dead bodies were immediately buried, he said, adding that a lack of mortuary facilities made it impossible to store the bodies for later identification.

Survivors have been given tents to erect a temporary shelter near the coast and would be later be transferred to a Somali refugee center 480 kilometers (298 miles) from the area, he said.

Thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians attempt to escape poverty in their countries by crossing the Gulf of Aden each year, many hoping to reach the more affluent Europe.

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