More than a dozen people are missing after a Malaysia-bound fishing boat collided in bad weather in the Bay of Bengal.
At least three people have drowned and nearly 20 others are missing off the coast of Bangladesh after a boat carrying Rohingya refugees sank due to bad weather, authorities said.
The fishing boat left at dawn on Tuesday for Malaysia, before running into trouble in the Bay of Bengal, with two coast guard search boats scrambling to rescue survivors.
Local police inspector Nur Mohammad told Al Jazeera that at least three bodies of young Rohingya women had washed up on Shilkhali beach in the coastal town of Halbunia.
“We went there after the local fishermen informed us about the dead bodies. The women are between 18 and 20 years old,” she said, adding that the bodies were sent to a hospital in the city of Cox’s Bazar for post-mortem examinations.
“We suspect some human traffickers in the area. A case will be opened against him,” he said.
The ship sank off the coast of Cox’s Bazar district, near the site of sprawling camps that are home to an estimated one million Rohingya refugees.
Dire conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh mean that hundreds of Rohingya each year pay smugglers to leave the country.
Mohammad Jalil, a resident of Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, said he paid some smugglers a large sum to take him to Malaysia. “Our money is gone now. We risked our lives for nothing,” he said.
Peyara Khatun, a Rohingya woman who was rescued, recounted the incident.
“The sea was very rough and there were big waves. At one point, the trawler sank. We swam for an hour to get to the beach,” she said.
Coast guard station commander Ashiq Ahmed said the boat was believed to be carrying around 65 people after stopping in several coastal towns before heading out to sea.
“We have rescued 45 people, including 41 Rohingya refugees and four Bangladeshis,” he told the AFP news agency.
“About 20 people are still missing. The rescue operation continues,” she added.
Most of the Rohingya in Bangladesh arrived five years ago after a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar that is now the subject of a genocide investigation at the United Nations high court.
Faisal Mahmud contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
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