Sri Lanka navy rescues over 100 Rohingya adrift in rough seas

Navy says 104 people found on board a trawler suspected to have originated from Myanmar and heading to Indonesia.

Sri Lanka’s navy has rescued 104 Rohingya adrift off the Indian Ocean island nation’s northern coast, an official said.

Tens of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya suffer hardships in cramped refugee camps in Bangladesh after they escaped violence by the Myanmar military. The United Nations said the military operation was conducted with a “genocidal intent” and it was investigating Myanmar officials.

Many Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar risk their lives every year by attempting to reach Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia on rickety vessels. Their numbers have surged following deteriorating conditions in the camps and last year’s military coup in Myanmar.

The boat was first detected by the Sri Lanka navy when it was 3.5 nautical miles (6.5km) from the shore.

Sri Lanka Rohingya
The Sri Lankan navy boat towing the trawler [Sri Lanka Navy/Screengrab via Reuters]

A search and rescue operation was launched to eventually tow the vessel to the island nation’s northern harbour on Sunday night, navy spokesman Captain Gayan Wickramasuriya said.

“The people have been handed over to the police,” Wickramasuriya told Reuters news agency. “The police will present them before a magistrate who will decide the next step.”

A navy statement said 104 Myanmar nationals were found on board the small trawler suspected to have originated from Myanmar and was heading to Indonesia when it ran into engine trouble in rough seas.

Wickramasuriya said 39 women and 23 minors were among the rescued people. An 80-year-old man, as well as a woman and her two children, all suffering from minor sickness, were admitted to hospital.

In 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following the Myanmar military crackdown that witnesses said included mass killings and rape.

Myanmar authorities say they were battling an armed rebellion and deny carrying out systematic atrocities. But rights groups and media have documented killings of civilians and the burning of villages during the crackdown.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies