More than 40 people, including a number of children are feared to have drowned after their overcrowded vessel carrying civilians fleeing violence in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, sank last week.
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Reuters reported at least 70 people were on board the vessel when it sank on October 29 in the Indian Ocean just north of the provincial capital of Pemba.
Tens of thousands of people have sought refuge in the provincial capital, fleeing from a three-year Islamist insurgency.
Nearly 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Cabo Delgado province, one of the country’s poorest regions, despite being home to gas projects valued at US$60bn (£45bn).
Survivor Uyeca Mpate said she, her husband of four months and many others had fled their homes in Palma, where Total and Exxon are leading projects to liquefy gas from offshore fields, to try to build a new life further south in Pemba.
“When the boat sank, I was able to hold on to a jerry can [water container]that I had and made it to the nearest island,” she told IOM.
“Other people held on to cushions from the boat, and some held a cord, but the others drowned. My husband also drowned. The greatest number of deaths were children. Only two children survived,” she said.
Issa Tarmamade, district administrator of Ibo, said 32 people were rescued by a passing boat, while the others were feared dead. Some bodies had already been found, including the body of a child recovered on Ibo island five days after the vessel sank.
“We are combing the area … [and]we expect to find more dead bodies on the shores of those islands,” he told Reuters. The small boat may have been overloaded with people and their belongings, he added.
The growing Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique, which encompasses various groups including al-Shabaab, has carried out more than 660 attacks since 2017, according to Acled, which collects and maps data on global armed conflict.
Attacks have intensified this year, with insurgents burning down homes, kidnapping children and decapitating villagers. The government has struggled to contain the conflict, and insurgents are now in control of a strategic port close to Mozambique’s natural gas fields.
In the past three weeks, more than 13,000 people have fled Cabo Delgado on more than 270 boats destined for Pemba, according to the IOM.
More than 2,000 people have been killed since the conflict began and approximately 710,000 people – including displaced people and their host communities – are now facing severe hunger as a result of this crisis, according to the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs. (Source: The Guardian)