Dozens of Rohingya refugees were missing and 15 were confirmed dead on Tuesday after a ship with around 130 people capsized in Bengal Bay when trying to reach Malaysia, a Bangladeshi Coast Guard official said.
The rescuers had rescued 73 people from the ship, which set sail early Tuesday with refugees trying to get to Malaysia from camps near the resort of Cox & # 39; s Bazar in Bangladesh, official Hamidul Islam said.
"It was inhumane," he said. "The boat carried about 130 people while it had a capacity of 50."
"The chance of finding someone alive is pretty slim, but we can't give up. We continue the search," said Islam.
Some of the survivors said a second ship with a similar number of passengers had also left at the same time, Islam said. The Coast Guard had previously been unable to locate the second ship.
"I wanted to go to Malaysia to live a better life. I wanted to live with my husband," Rajuma Akhtar, one of the rescued women, told the media Tuesday. Akhtar said her husband went to Malaysia five years ago.
Two Bangladeshi naval ships and two Coast Guard ships were involved in joint rescue operations near Saint Martin & # 39; s Iceland off the southeast tip of Bangladesh. 46 women, 24 men and three children were among those rescued. The confirmed dead were women and children, Islam said.
In 2017, Myanmar military action drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh. The Buddhist majority in Myanmar has denied the US allegations that its military has campaigned against Rohingya with "genocidal intentions."
In a statement, the humanitarian organization Save the Children called Tuesday's tragic accident a "wake-up call". She urged the Myanmar government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the Rohingya can return to their homes in a safe and dignified manner.
In November, the Bangladeshi Coast Guard rescued 122 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Bengal Bay when a ship they had taken to Malaysia began to sink due to a mechanical problem.
Malaysia is home to more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees, the second largest in the world after Bangladesh.
Attracted by human traffickers, hundreds try the dangerous trip to Malaysia on crowded, rickety ships from November to March, when the region's sea conditions are usually calm. Others try to find their way to Malaysia by paying people smugglers for fake travel documents.
The authorities in Bangladesh prevented more than 600 Rohingya, including many young girls, from making dangerous sea voyages last year, mainly to Malaysia. Last year, at least seven suspected human traffickers, including two Rohingya refugees, were killed in clashes with the police in Cox & # 39; Bazar.
"We continue our efforts to prevent human trafficking," said Iqbal Hossain, additional chief of police in Cox & # 39; Bazar.