Dazed and exhausted, some of the Bangladeshi and Myanmar nationals rescued on Saturday by the Sri Lankan navy from a sinking boat off Sri Lanka's eastern coast huddle together, above, at Oluvil fishing harbour in the island country. Navy personnel tend to the survivors, giving them water, saline and food.Photo: AFP
The Sri Lankan Navy rescued 138 Bangladeshi and Myanmar nationals on Saturday from a sinking vessel 50 miles off the island's eastern coast.
Of them, 127 are Bangladeshis and the rest are Myanmar nationals, according to a press release of the Sri Lankan Navy.
However, in a statement late last night, Bangladesh High Commission in Colombo said most of the survivors are Myanmar nationals.
The vessel set off on January 12 from Safarong of Nayapara in Bangladesh's Teknaf, the high commission said, adding its officials collected information through interaction with some 10 survivors of Manju 4. The boat was heading to Malaysia. It ran out of fuel on the way and drifted to Sri Lankan waters.
One person had been found dead aboard the boat, naval spokesperson Kosala Warnakulasuriya said. The deceased was a Bangladeshi national, according to BBC Bangla.
Sri Lankan police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told AFP that they were certain that the passengers on Manju 4 had not been trying to enter Sri Lanka. But he could not determine their port of origin or destination.
The navy personnel provided the survivors with emergency services. Many were found unconscious due to weakness caused by hunger and dehydration.
Fifteen of them, including two women and two children, were hospitalised with acute dehydration, reports AFP quoting a police statement.
All the 15 are from Bangladesh, said Mostafa Tasin, a physician at the hospital where they are taking treatment.
The survivors told naval officials that they had survived only on seawater for a long time.
"I was on the sea for 12 days," Kabir Hossain, a Bangladeshi, told Sri Lankan journalists in broken Hindi.
The rest of the survivors are in a naval camp while the body has been kept in a morgue.
The boat had been stranded for 10 days prior to the rescue. Reports from local fisherman alerted the Sri Lankan Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, which in turn asked the navy to help. The navy conducted a 20-hour rescue mission, says its press release.
"We sent three ships for the rescue at a location 50 miles off the eastern coast of Akkaraipattu," Warnakulasuriya told AFP.
Statements of the survivors would be recorded, police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told AFP.
According to different news agencies, the authorities were having trouble communicating with the survivors because of language barrier and had asked for translators from the two embassies in Sri Lanka.
It was unclear whether the Myanmar nationals were Rohingyas, officials said.
The rescue mission took place amid increased naval patrols to stop Sri Lankan fishing boats from carrying people illegally to Australia.
According to a Sri Lankan newspaper, citizens of the country pay as much as $3,000 to travel across the sea.
When contacted, an official of Bangladesh High Commission in Colombo told The Daily Star that two officials were sent early Saturday to the temporary shelter where the rescued people were kept under judicial supervision.
The local administration was taking care of the survivors and there were arrangements for taking them to hospital in case of emergency, the official added.
He said a process was underway to know the identities of the people. The high commission sent another official to assist the local administration in confirming identities of the people rescued.