Somalis perish in new boat disaster in Gulf of Aden

Briefing Notes, 10 February 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 February 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

At least 11 people have drowned and another 34 are missing following a boat incident this week in the Gulf of Aden. Survivors found on Somali beaches on Wednesday evening explained that their boat, crewed by three smugglers and carrying 58 passengers, had set sail for Yemen last Saturday (04 February). Soon after departure, the boat's engine broke down. Without power, they were adrift for five days. The boat ultimately capsized on Wednesday in rough seas and bad weather.

Shocking details came to light yesterday (Thursday) as survivors recounted to local authorities and our partners how smugglers forced 22 passengers overboard soon after the engine failed.

UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life. Authorities in the Somali port town of Bossaso are investigating the incident and we hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

So far, 11 bodies have been recovered on beaches around the village of Ceelaayo some 30 kilometers west of Bossaso. Locals also found 13 survivors, including two women and a teenage boy and girl. Our partners, in coordination with the local authorities, organized the transport of these people from the village of Qaw to Bossaso for medical treatment. Most of them are suffering from skin burns caused by fuel inside the boat.

Every year tens of thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians fleeing violence, human rights abuses and poverty in the Horn of Africa pay smugglers to ferry them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Many never make it, as the boats capsize or smugglers beat some of the passengers to death, force them overboard, or disembark people too far from shores.

To alert people planning to cross the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, UNHCR teamed up in 2009 with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners to spread awareness about the dangers. But people still keep making the perilous crossing.

Despite growing instability and worsening security in Yemen, a record 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Horn of Africa made the journey across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in 2011.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya, UNHCR Somalia Office: Andy Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617



UNHCR country pages

UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI)

EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea and protection of Asylum Seekers and Migrants.

Rescue at Sea on the Mediterranean

Every year tens of thousands of people risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats in a bid to reach Europe. Many of them are fleeing violence and persecution and are in need of international protection. Thousands die every year trying to make it to places like Malta or Italy's tiny Lampedusa Island. It took the loss of some 600 people in boat sinkings last October to focus world attention on this humanitarian tragedy. Italy has since launched a rescue-at-sea operation using naval vessels, which have saved more than 10,000 people. Photographer Alfredo D'Amato, working with UNHCR, was on board the San Giusto, flagship of the Italian rescue flotilla, when rescued people were transferred to safety. His striking images follow.

Rescue at Sea on the Mediterranean

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


Return to SomaliaPlay video

Return to Somalia

Ali and his family are ready to return to Somalia after living in Dadaab refugee camp for the past five years. We follow their journey from packing up their home in the camp to settling into their new life back in Somalia.
Opening Panel on Play video

Opening Panel on "Boat People in the twenty-first Century"

High Commissioner's Dialogue : Stream of the first part of the opening plenary on 10 December 2014
Italy: Desperate Rescue at SeaPlay video

Italy: Desperate Rescue at Sea

Tens of thousands are fleeing from the North African coast, seeking safety in Europe via a dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossings. Many are Syrian refugees, many others come from Sub-Saharan Africa - all risk their lives.