A military vessel and a helicopter gunship Friday attacked a boat packed with Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen, killing at least 42 people, said Yemeni officials and a survivor who witnessed the attack.
Maj. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, dismissed Houthi accusations that the coalition carried out the attack.
He told Arab News that the coalition forces had not been involved in fighting in Al-Hodeida where the attack took place. “There has been no firing by the coalition in this zone,” the spokesman said.
A Yemeni trafficker who survived the attack said the boat was filled with Somali refugees, including women and children, who were trying to reach Sudan from war-torn Yemen.
Al-Hassan Ghaleb Mohammed said the boat had left from Ras Arra, along the southern coastline in Al-Hodeida province, and was 50 km off the coast, near the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, when the military vessel and then the helicopter gunship opened fire.
He described a scene of panic in which the refugees held up flashlights, apparently to show that they were poor migrants. He said the helicopter then stopped firing, but only after dozens had been killed. Mohammed was unharmed in the attack.
A top official with the UN’s migration agency said 42 bodies have been recovered from the attack. Mohammed Abdiker, emergencies director at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, said the attack at around 3 a.m. on Friday was “totally unacceptable” and that combatants should have checked who was aboard the boat “before firing on it.”
He said about 75 men and 15 women who survived the attack were taken to detention centers, and some bodies were laid in a fish market in Al-Hodeida because of a lack of space in mortuaries.