The UN agency quoted Yemeni officials as saying that they had captured 17 smugglers and were continuing the search for survivors.


“I am deeply saddened by this latest tragedy involving smugglers' boats carrying desperate people across the Gulf of Aden,” Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said.


“Brutal smugglers continue to prey on the desperation of poor people fleeing persecution and violence and those looking for better economic opportunities elsewhere,” he said.


The refugee agency said the Somalis claimed to be fleeing the Bur-Hakaba, Baidawa and Belet Weyne areas of central Somalia, where fighting between the Ethiopian-backed government and Islamic militias has escalated in recent days.