At least 7 African migrants drown off Yemeni coast

Sat Mar 21, 2009 3:42pm EDT

ADEN, Yemen, March 21 (Reuters) - At least seven African migrants drowned and more than 20 were injured when their boat capsized off the Yemeni port of Aden on Saturday, official sources said.

The boat was carrying around 100 people, most of them Somalis, a source at the Aden coastguard told Reuters.

The vessel had overturned because it was overcrowded and rescue operations are continuing, the source said.

A local official from Aden told Reuters eight people died when the boat capsized and around 22 people had been taken to hospital. Another 70 were safe, he added.

The boat overturned after its passengers attempted to disembark and reach the shore, the official said.

Earlier on Saturday the French Navy said it had towed a boat carrying around 70 people to the Yemeni coast because it had a broken engine.

There have been a number of fatal incidents this year involving migrants trying to leave the Horn of Africa by sea.

Last year 50,000 people, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia, took rickety smugglers' ships across the Gulf of Aden, which is on the sea route from Europe to the Middle East and Asia via the Suez Canal.

Most are thought to be seeking jobs in the Middle East, or fleeing political turmoil in Somalia or drought and food shortages in Ethiopia. (Reporting by Mohammed Mokhashaf in Aden, Mohammed Sudam in Sanaa and Yves Clarisse in Paris; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Editing by Jonathan Wright)