AL JAZEERA (Qatar), REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS
SITTWE – Rescuers were searching for survivors Tuesday after a boat carrying up to 200 Rohingya Muslims capsized off the western Burmese coast.
Many are feared drowned among the oft-persecuted minority, who were being evacuated late Monday from low-lying regions of Burma (also referred to as Myanmar) ahead of cyclone Mahasen, UN officials reported early Tuesday.
Barbara Manzi, head of the Myanmar branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), declared that the boat struck rocks off the Pauktaw township in Rakhine State, and sank late on Monday, Reuters reports.
Kristen Mildren, also of OCHA, told Al Jazeera that there were 200 people on the boat, and that there is only one confirmed survivor. OCHA told the Associated Press that eight bodies have been recovered since the boat sank, around midnight local time.
The passengers of the boat were Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority who had been living in refugee camps since violent clashes opposed Buddhists and Muslims in the area last year. They are denied citizenship by the government of Myanmar.
"We understand that yesterday evening they went out with the approval of government officials. This was part of an official government evacuation plan although the boats were not government boats. They were moving from a low-lying area to a safer area," Kirsten Mildren told Reuters.
The approaching storm, called Mahasen, is currently categorized as a tropical depression that could turn into a cyclone, and is expected to hit the coast of Myanmar at the end of the week. In 2008 a cyclone swept across Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, killing up to 140,000 people, Reuters reports.