Sri Lanka rescues migrants adrift after 20 perish

COLOMBO, March 3, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s navy on Monday rescued 71 Myanmar and Bangladeshi survivors adrift in the Indian Ocean after 20 people died aboard their wooden boat, a navy spokesman said. The survivors would be brought to the capital Colombo, navy officials said.

The craft developed engine trouble and was towed to Sri Lanka’s northeastern port of Trincomalee, spokesman D. K. P. Dassanayake said.

The navy had gone to search the ship thinking it was smuggling weapons for Tamil Tiger rebels, the spokesman said.

“We sighted the vessel about 150 kilometres (90 miles) off Sri Lanka’s (northeastern) Mullaitivu coast and reached it today,” Dassanayake said. “We have rescued 50 Myanmar nationals and 21 Bangladeshi men.”

The navy said 91 people were aboard when the craft set off in February, but 20 had died over the last two weeks.