Dozens feared drowned after boat capsizes off Mozambique

By: AFP      Published: 09:55 PM, 3 Nov, 2020
Dozens feared drowned after boat capsizes off Mozambique

Dozens of people are feared to have drowned off the coast of Mozambique last week when their boat capsized as they fled from unrest in the country's insurgency-hit north, volunteer rescuers said Tuesday. 

They told AFP that the tragedy only started coming to light after some 20 survivors swept up onto Pemba beach on Monday. 

About 50 others are still missing.

"The wreck was last Thursday but we only found out yesterday when the survivors arrived this Monday in the Paquitequete neighbourhood in Pemba and narrated what happened," said Taibo Ali, a young volunteer who has been helping the survivors find shelter.

"Some people managed to swim using jerrycans as a float. But there were only a few people just to tell the story.

"One survivor said she lost an 11-year-old son to the wreck and the body has not yet been recovered," said the young Muslim volunteer who works alongside other students, unaided in the region. 

A shadowy insurgency has wreaked havoc in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province over the past three years, targeting villages and towns in a bid to establish an Islamist caliphate.

With the recent intensification of attacks in the districts of Central and North Cabo Delgado, thousands of people have left their villages to seek refuge in safer areas towards the south. 

The roadside attacks that began in 2017 have left people with no option but to be transported on sailing boats, without life jackets, on long journeys on the high seas that take about four days on average.

10,000 displaced on boats 

Amade Abubacar, a journalist based in Pemba, told AFP that "according to the survivors, the boat was carrying around 70 people and only about 20 survived."

The aid-dependent southern African country has no means of rescuing people from the areas of attacks to safer areas. 

According to locals, even the fishing boats that have been adapted to transport people now haul more than three times their capacity. 

Police spokesman Ernesto Madungue told AFP that the incident was "not yet confirmed".

"I interacted with colleagues from the coastal police who still have no confirmation," said Madungue. 

"We are waiting for the investigation."  

About 100,000 internally displaced people have sought refuge in and around Pemba in temporary shelters, such as school buildings, or with host families, increasing by one third the city's inhabitants, according to a statement released by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Tuesday.

"Approximately 10,000 displaced people arrived by boat to the provincial capital of Pemba last week alone," said MSF coordinator in Cabo Delgado, Joaquim Guinart.

"They were dehydrated. Women gave birth at sea. There have been cases of severe, potentially fatal diarrhoea," he said, adding that pressure was mounting on local medical staff who have seen about 20,000 people arriving over the past month.

"More will continue to come," he warned.  

There are few details about the jihadist group named Al-Shabaab, which has no known links to the group of the name operating in Somalia.

Mozambique's Al-Shabaab has staged more than 600 attacks across 10 of Cabo Delgado's 17 districts, according to a US-based NGO, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) group.

ACLED has also documented more than 2,000 deaths, at least 1,100 of them civilians.