300 migrants killed off Andaman islands

deepak pace

Port Blair: About 300 illegal migrants, mostly Bangladeshis, are feared dead after they jumped from a boat and tried to swim ashore in India's remote Andaman islands, the Indian coast guard said on Sunday.

A senior coast guard official said they had rescued 88 people from a small boat near Little Andaman island on Saturday.

Another 11 men were found on nearby Sandy Point island, said S.P. Sharma, commander of the coast guard for the Andaman region, adding that about 300 men were still missing.

"Around 300 of them reportedly jumped into the sea hoping to swim across to the shore," Sharma told reporters in Port Blair. "While all of them are feared dead or missing, search operations are still ongoing," he said.

A survivor told officials there had been there had been 412 men, aged between 18 and 60, on the boat, which had little food or water and only a plastic sheet for a sail.

Sharma said the man told police seven others had died at sea and their bodies were dumped overboard. Preliminary investigations suggested the men had left Bangladesh bound for Malaysia in six motorised boats about 45 days ago.

At some point on their journey, the men had changed vessels, a coast guard statement said. One survivor, identified as Mohammad Ismail Arafat, said he and others had paid a Bangladeshi agent for promised jobs.

"We were left to the mercy of God ... after drifting for 10-15 days when finally we saw a lighthouse, many jumped into the water," the statement quoted him as saying. Coast guard vessels were still combing the area and police were searching nearby islands for survivors. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands lie about 1,200 km off India's east coast.