A timeline of events in the Andaman Sea
Accounts given by multiple sources to authorities, the Sunday Morning Post and other media indicate that in December, the Thai military set groups of Rohingya refugees adrift in unpowered boats on at least two occasions. Of the 992 people thought to have been cast adrift, some 538 people are missing or dead. According to timelines reconstructed by the Post, the first expulsion, involving 580 people, occurred on or about December 11. The second, involving 412 people, occurred on December 17 or 18.
Expulsion 1: 238 missing or dead
Survivors rescued from two shipwrecks, one in India's Andaman Islands and one off Indonesia's Aceh province, gave corresponding accounts of how they were apprehended by members of the Thai military, who then towed them out to sea in unpowered boats and abandoned them.
Both groups of survivors said they were originally part of a group of 580 travelling in several boats when they left Bangladesh. They said when they arrived in Thailand, Thai military officers separated them into three or four unpowered boats and cast them adrift.
Indonesia's Antara news agency reported that a boatload of 192 people was rescued by the Indonesian navy on January 7 after the refugee boat ran aground. The commander of the naval base, Colonel Yanuwar, told Antara: 'We found them aboard a non-motorised boat.' He said they had been drifting for 28 days, after 'they have been in Thailand for two days'. He did not elaborate.
But in an interview published in the Jakarta Post on January 10, one of the survivors, Imam Husein, 30, was quoted as saying: 'We were in Thailand for two days, but they abused us and expelled us with gunshots.' He said Thai 'marines' had divided the 580 people into three boats, then towed them into international waters where they abandoned them.
A near-identical story was told by survivors among a group of 150 who were found by the Indian Navy, shipwrecked on Tilangchang Island in the Andamans on January 10.
An Indian security official interviewed by the Sunday Morning Post in Port Blair said the survivors claimed to have been apprehended by Thai authorities, who put them to sea in four boats without engines. He said the entire group were originally in six boats before they encountered the Thai authorities. He added that 20 refugees died during their voyage or the shipwreck.
The Andaman Chronicle said on January 12 that according to 'preliminary questioning', the survivors claimed to have been part of a group of 580 who set out from Bangladesh in boats. It said that the Thai military apprehended them in Thai waters, and were 'divided into batches and set adrift'.
The fate of the other boat or boats, believed to have a total of 218 people aboard, was not known.
(Another group of 132 refugees was found by the Indian coastguard on January 12. They have yet to be interrogated, and it is unclear whether they were part of the group of 580.)
Expulsion 2: 300 missing or dead
A source in Thailand told the Sunday Morning Post more than a week ago that on or about December 18, a total of 412 boatpeople were towed into international waters north of Koh Surin then abandoned in a single boat.
This account corresponds with the version of events given by some of the 103 survivors who were rescued by the Indian coastguard off the Andaman Islands on December 27.
The Indian interrogation report of the survivors states that on December 17 or 18, more than 400 refugees were loaded by the Thai military onto an unpowered barge after picking them up from two island detention facilities. The report said the barge was towed northeast by the Thai military for 18 hours before the tow rope was detached. It said that the boat drifted until the last week of December. By then six had died. When the refugees saw a light on an island one night, 300 jumped overboard. Only 11 made it to shore, the report said.
Reuters reported on December 28 that those 11 were picked up on a nearby island. Another two were later found alive floating at sea, the Associated Press reported on December 30. The 88 people who stayed on the boat were rescued by the Indian coastguard. (It is unclear when the remaining two, required to make up the 103 survivors, were rescued).
The Andaman Chronicle quoted police as saying the original number aboard was 412.
The Associated Press quoted Indian coastguard Inspector General S.P. Sharma as saying 10 corpses had washed ashore and, regarding the rest of the 300, 'all of them are feared dead or missing'. The AP also said that a survivor told officials there were originally 412 people on board.