Hundreds of Foreigners Found in Drifting Boat

BANDA ACEH ~ A wooden boat with nearly 200 people on board was found drifting off the northern tip of Sumatra on Wednesday, officials said.

The boat, with 174 people from Myanmar and 19 from Bangladesh on board, was found at sea by fishermen off Sabang island in Aceh province, local navy commander Yanuar Handwiyono said.

Those on board the boat were weak after being adrift for around one week, Handwiyono said.

“Some 79 passengers are being treated in two separate hospitals in Sabang town for dehydration,” he said.

All of those on the boat were men and none of them spoke Indonesian or English.

The passengers were believed to be en route to Malaysia “to seek a better life,” Aceh Police spokesman Farid Ahmad said.

Police had referred the boat passengers’ case to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and local immigration authorities, he said.

The Indian Coast Guard said last week that it was searching for around 300 illegal migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh who had abandoned a ship drifting in the Bay of Bengal.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Jakarta could not confirm whether the 200 people found off Sabang were linked to the 300 missing people, who reportedly abandoned ship near the Andaman and Nicobar islands, north of Aceh.

“We’re still establishing fact on the origin of the people and their destination. It’s hard to verify because they don’t speak Indonesian,” spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.

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