Source Phuketwan, 19 Feb
PHUKET: Survivors of a Burmese deathship, saved after two months adrift, have told of throwing 98 bodies overboard as their fellow companions perished.
The 31 men and a boy who were rescued 463 kilometres from land by the Sri Lankan Navy said they originally set sail two months ago from northern Burma for Indonesia or Australia.
Instead, the suspected Rohingya found themselves languishing on the Indian Ocean, dying one by one of thirst or starvation or dehydration in a nightmare voyage.
The rescue of survivors is likely to throw into sharp media focus the core cause – Burma’s ethnic cleansing of its Muslim minority Rohingya – and the lack of an international policy to stop the slaughter.
”They said they had carried food and water for only one month and they had been in the sea for two months after the ship engine stalled,” police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told Reuters in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.
”Their captain and 97 others have died due to dehydration and starvation. They also said they had thrown the dead bodies into the sea.”
Thousands of boatpeople have set out in record numbers, since October especially, to sail past Phuket to sanctuary in Malaysia, knowing that many boats sink but determined to sail because life in Burma can’t get any worse.
The saga of the people rescued off Sri Lanka this week adds a new and horrible dimension of death by thirst and starvation at sea.
Most of the boats leaving from northern Burma still carry just men and boys but boats departing from further south around the troubled township of Sittwe now also carry women and children.
Two boatloads of Rohingya have fetched up off Phuket in recent weeks. The first, apprehended off southern Phuket on January 1, carried women and 10 children aged under 10.
They were taken ashore on compassionate grounds, trucked north quickly and put bach on another boat by authorities within 48 hours.
The second boatload consisting of 205 men and boys was apprehended off Racha island, south of Phuket, on Janauary 29, and ”helped on” straight away by the Royal Thai Navy with extra water.
The word has since reached the people smuggling brokers in Burma that Thailand is no longer bringing boatpeople to shore, sticking instead to its ”help on” policy.
India is now believed to have adopted the same policy. Australia, on the other hand, has the equivalent of a ”pushback” policy designed to repel boatloads of queue-jumping would-be immigrants.
Thailand dropped that ”pushback” policy in 2009 after hundreds of Rohingya perished at sea off Indonesia and India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands.
Without an international approach to force Burma to end the violence against the stateless Rohingya and grant them some basic rights, the horrors at sea will continue.