At least six people drowned after smugglers carrying 52 Africans across the Gulf of Aden forced their passengers overboard in deep water off the Yemen coast, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Another 11 people were reported missing and presumed dead after the tragedy which happened last week, according to Ron Redmond, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The boat, reportedly carrying 40 Somalis and 12 Ethiopians, was one of seven smuggling boats that reached the Yemen coast on Friday after making the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa, Redmond said.
Survivors reported that the boat departed on Thursday from Suweto, in Somalia's Bossasso region.
When the smugglers noticed the presence of the Yemeni police onshore, they refused to get closer to the coast and forced passengers overboard in deep water.
This was the third fatal incident since the beginning of 2009.
So far this year, a total of 168 boats with 9,449 people have reached the Yemen coast, while the death toll stands at 47 people, with 23 bodies buried and 24 missing at sea.
The influx of new arrivals across the Gulf Aden since the beginning of this year increased slightly compared to the same period in 2008, according to UNHCR.
"We are concerned that this trend might continue through 2009.
In 2008, more than 50,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, straining UNHCR's capacity and resources," Redmond said.