Sri Lankan navy saves 138 Bangladeshi and Myanmar nationals
Bangladeshis and 11 Myanmar nationals are among survivors of drifting trawler
Sri Lanka's navy yesterday rescued 138 Bangladeshi and Myanmar nationals from a sinking fishing vessel off the island's eastern coast, officials said.
One passenger was found dead while many of the 138 plucked from the boat were dehydrated, navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya said, adding that the vessel had been adrift for 10 days before it sank yesterday.
"We sent three ships for the rescue at a location 80 kilometres off the eastern coast of Akkaraipattu," Warnakulasuriya said. "Some have been admitted to a local hospital."
Among those rescued were three women and three children, he said.
Police said initial investigations showed that 11 were Myanmese nationals, while the others were Bangladeshis.
"We have difficulty in communicating with the survivors, so we have asked the two embassies to send us translators," a police spokesman said.
He said statements of survivors would be recorded and they would be moved to a temporary shelter in Colombo under judicial supervision.
"We are certain that they were not trying to enter Sri Lanka, but their boat developed trouble in mid-sea and they drifted close to our shores," he said.
The early-morning rescue came amid stepped-up naval patrols to check Sri Lankan fishing boats taking would-be illegal immigrants to Australia.
Warnakulasuriya said it was not yet known where the rescued passengers came from or were headed. Officials said it was unclear if those identified as Myanmese nationals were Rohingya - members of a stateless Muslim minority described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted groups - who had fled Myanmar.
Sri Lankan authorities arrested more than 1,200 people trying to leave the island illegally last year. Many of those who make the perilous journey pay up to US$3,000 for a place on trawlers run by people smugglers.
An explosion of tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine since June last year has triggered a seaborne exodus of Rohingya.
Thailand's navy blocked more than 200 Rohingya boat people from entering the kingdom late last month.