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300 migrants missing off Andamans

Port Blair, Dec. 28 (Reuters): Around 300 illegal migrants, mostly Bangladeshis, are feared dead after they jumped from a boat and tried to swim ashore in the Andamans, the Indian coast guard said.

A coast guard official said the force had rescued 88 people from a small boat near Little Andaman island, about 90km south of Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal, yesterday.

Another 11 men were found on nearby Sandy Point island, said S.P. Sharma, the commander of the coast guard for the Andaman region, adding that about 300 men were still missing.

“Around 300 of them reportedly jumped into the sea hoping to swim across to the shore,” Sharma said. “While all are feared dead or missing, search operations are still going on.”

A survivor told officials there had been 412 men, aged between 18 and 60, in the boat, which had little food or water and only a plastic sheet for a sail.

Sharma said the man told police seven others had died at sea and their bodies were dumped overboard.

Preliminary investigations suggested the men had left Bangladesh bound for Malaysia in six motorised boats about 45 days ago. At some point on their journey, the men had changed vessels, a coast guard statement said.

A survivor, identified as Mohammad Ismail Arafat, said he and the others had paid a Bangladeshi agent for promised jobs. “We were left to the mercy of God.… After drifting for 10-15 days when finally we saw a lighthouse, many jumped into the water,” the statement quoted him as saying.

Coast guard vessels are still combing the area and nearby islands are being searched for survivors.

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