Five Bangladeshis were killed and at least 151 injured when a gang of miscreants from Myanmar opened fire on a trawler, carrying over 300 people illegally to Malaysia, in the Bay of Bengal yesterday.
Twelve more Bangladeshis remained missing when this report was filed at 10:00 last night.
Coast Guard detained three human traffickers after towing the boat to St Martin's Island at 5:00pm yesterday.
"Two of the detainees are Thai citizens and the other is from Myanmar," said Lt Shahid, commander of the Coast Guard station on the island.
Based on information from the detainees, police arrested another person from Joynagar village in Narsingdi's Shibpur upazila, confirmed the officer-in-charge of Shibpur Police Station.
Those killed have been identified as Saiful Islam of Bogra's Kahalu, Rubel and Md Selim of Jessore's Enayetpur, Munir Hossain and Mohammad Islam of Sirajganj, according to Lt Kazi Harun-ar-Rashid, commander of the Coast Guard's Teknaf station.
According to Bangladesh Coast Guard, the 120-feet-long trawler with 330 people on board set off for Malaysia from Moheshkhali coast in Cox's Bazar on Monday night.
In the morning yesterday, the boat stopped around 12 kilometres south-east off St Martin's Island to take more passengers.
"When we protested, a scuffle broke out with the gang members on the trawler," said Belaluddin, who was rescued from the boat.
"Then they started hacking us indiscriminately. At one stage, the traffickers called their accomplices in Myanmar through mobile phones. Then they came in boats around 12:00noon and started firing at us," he said, adding that the place seemed not far from the Myanmar coast as the cohorts arrived within a very short time.
"The armed traffickers arrived in three trawlers and fired indiscriminately at the boat, which was positioned near the Myanmar border. The miscreants then turned away towards Myanmar," Harun-ar-Rashid told The Daily Star.
In the meantime, a passenger sent out an SOS to different people, using his mobile phone and later talked to journalists over the phone.
Getting the SOS from the stranded boat, Coast Guard sent out rescue teams.
After the first team reached the spot, the panicky passengers tried to jump from the stranded trawler into the much smaller rescue boat, prompting the coast guards to back off and call in reinforcements.
Once reinforcements arrived, they started towing the trawler and reached the island coast around 5:00pm.
"It took longer than expected as the sea was very rough," Harun-ar-Rashid said.
All the passengers and detainees were kept at the island and they would be sent to Teknaf police station this morning, he told The Daily Star.
The injured, who were either bullet-hit or hacked, were being treated at the 25-bed St Martin's Hospital and the camps of Coast Guard and police on the Island.
More than 250 people were killed when three trawlers carrying people to Malaysia illegally capsized in the sea last year.
Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain said his ministry always discouraged illegal attempts by individuals to go overseas for jobs.
“We have a law which ensures maximum punishment for human traffickers, who transport people through illegal means for overseas jobs,” he told reporters at his ministry yesterday.
He also sought a more active role from the home ministry to prevent such occurrences.