Dozens of people are feared to have drowned off the coast of Mozambique last week when their boat capsized as they fled from unrest in the country’s insurgency-hit north.
Rescue workers told AFP news agency on Tuesday that the tragedy started coming to light after some 20 survivors managed to swim to Pemba beach on Monday. About 50 are still missing.
“The wreck was last Thursday but we only found out yesterday when the survivors arrived in the Paquitequete neighbourhood in Pemba and narrated what happened,” Taibo Ali, a volunteer helping the survivors find shelter, told AFP.
“Some people managed to swim using jerrycans as a float. But there were only a few people just to tell the story.
“One survivor said she lost an 11-year-old son and the body has not yet been recovered.”
Amade Abubacar, a journalist based in Pemba, told AFP that “according to the survivors, the boat was carrying around 70 people and only about 20 survived”.
Police spokesman Ernesto Madungue told AFP that the incident was “not yet confirmed”.
“I interacted with colleagues from the coastal police who still have no confirmation,” said Madungue. “We are waiting for the investigation.”
An armed uprising has wreaked havoc in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province over the past three years, targeting villages and towns.
With the recent intensification of attacks in the districts of Central and North Cabo Delgado, thousands of people have left their villages to seek refuge in safer areas towards the south.
Violent attacks in Cabo Delgado have triggered a humanitarian crisis, with more than 300,000 internally displaced people and 712,000 in need of humanitarian assistance, according to an Amnesty International report released last month.
The roadside attacks that began in 2017 have left people with no option but to be transported on boats, without life jackets, on long journeys on the high seas that take about four days on average.
According to locals, even the fishing boats that have been adapted to transport people now haul more than three times their capacity.
About 100,000 of the displaced people have sought refuge in and around Pemba in temporary shelters, such as school buildings, or with host families, increasing by one third the city’s inhabitants, according to a statement released by Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) on Tuesday.
“Approximately 10,000 displaced people arrived by boat to the provincial capital of Pemba last week alone,” said MSF coordinator in Cabo Delgado, Joaquim Guinart.
“They were dehydrated. Women gave birth at sea. There have been cases of severe, potentially fatal diarrhoea. More will continue to come.”