The boat caught fire and capsized in Atiaba about 200km from Port Sudan

A ship packed with refugees bound for Saudi Arabia has caught fire and capsized off the northeastern coast of Sudan, killing 197 people, the Sudanese Media Centre, a state-linked news agency, has said.

The agency said on Tuesday that three of the migrants had been rescued.

The three are being treated in a hospital near Atiaba, where the incident took place, Mohamed Vall, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from Khartoum, said.

The ship had launched from the Red Sea State, one of Sudan's 26 states, and sailed for four hours in Sudanese territorial waters before the blaze broke out, according to the news agency.

"All we know is this boat has caught fire and capsized off the shores of the Red Sea area in Sudan, particularly at a place called Atiaba about 200km from the port of Sudan," Vall said

An unconfirmed source spoke to Al Jazeera and said the boat drowned last Saturday, although the Sudanese media were only reported it now.

"We don't have confirmed information about when this happened," Vall said.

The owners of the boat, all Yemenis, have been arrested, the Sudanese Media Centre said.

'Homemade boat'

"It is a homemade boat and that is probably one of the problems that caused this incident," Vall said. 

The boat had several nationalities on board, including Somalians, Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese.

A second attempt to smuggle 247 migrants, mostly from Chad, Nigeria, Somalia and Eritrea, was also uncovered in the same state, the report said, without elaborating.

Sudan has experienced several other incidents of illegal migrants drowning off the coast on their way to nearby countries in past years.

Thousands of African migrants, especially Eritreans and Ethiopians, risk the dangerous route to escape, often trying to go to Saudi Arabia.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies