The Indian Navy had their telephones ringing constantly after the United Nations’s agencies and other humanitarian associations urged the country to help the Bangladeshi boat that drifted into India’s waters on Monday carrying Rohingyas.
A humanitarian group called ‘Arakan Project’ was confirmed regarding the presence of 90 passengers on the boat apart from having a satphone on the vessel. These 90 Rohingyas include 65 women and girls, 20 men and 5 children aged below 2 years.
The boat’s engine ceased to work 6 days back since when, the boat has been floating and moving towards the Andaman Islands of India, completely away from its original course. “The Rohingyas boarded the boat south of the Bangladesh seaside town of Cox’s Bazar on 11th February and was headed towards Southeast Asia when its engines broke down,” Chris Lewa, Thailand-based Arakan Project’s director, said.
With no drinking water and food left on the boat, 8 people have already died after drinking seawater and suffering from acute diarrhoea.
Chris added, “Only the Indian navy or coast guards in Andamans can save them,” as she said that her group has informed the UNHCR and Western embassies located in Dhaka regarding the “huge humanitarian crisis”.
The crew on the boat has seen Indian Naval patrol vessel close to where they are, she said while the Indian Navy sources clarified that they are making efforts to identify the boat “that seems to have drifted into Indian waters off the Andaman coast”.
Given the situation, Chris said she is contemplating the option of creating a direct communication with the Indian government, appealing to them to allow the Indian Navy and coast guards of Andaman Islands to interfere and rescue the people on the boat.
“Indian coast guard patrols have traced the Rohingya boat 40 km east of Rangat in the Andamans. They should save the inmates by taking them to a safe shelter with food, water and medical treatment,” said Chris Lewa.
At 10.30 am on Monday, the ‘Arakan Project’ could establish a connection with the crew of the boat to get the exact coordinates of the boat when they also received the news of the death of 3 on the boat and 5 others due to ingestion of seawater out of desperation.
As such, the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) has requested the neighbouring countries- India, Myanmar and Bangladesh to step in and order rescue teams immediately. The agency added that it received the news of an “unconfirmed number of Rohingya refugees aboard a vessel in distress as of the evening of Saturday 20th February”.
UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific’s director, Indrika Ratwatte said in a statement, “Saving lives must be the priority. In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status. We appeal to all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress.”