BANGKOK — A wooden fishing boat carrying several hundred migrants from Myanmar was spotted adrift in the Andaman Sea today, part of an exodus in which thousands of people have taken to the sea in recent weeks but no country has been willing to take them in.
Cries of “Please help us! I have no water!” rose from the boat as a vessel carrying journalists approached. “Please give me water!”
The green and red fishing boat, packed with men, women and children squatting on the deck with only tarps strung up to protect them from the sun, was turned away by the Malaysian authorities yesterday, the passengers said.
The passengers said 400 migrants were aboard the boat, which was north of the Malaysian island of Langkawi and west of the Thai mainland. At least 160 people were visible above deck.
Women and children wailed as the boat with journalists approached.
“Myanmar refugees! Myanmar refugees!” a man who gave his name as Selim yelled to a reporter.
The passengers said that they had been on the boat for three months, that 10 of them had died during the voyage and that their bodies had been thrown overboard.
They said that the boat’s captain and five crew members had abandoned them six days ago.
“I am very hungry,” said a 15-year-old boy, Mohamed Siraj, who said he was from western Myanmar. “Quickly help us please.”
An estimated 6,000 to 20,000 migrants fleeing ethnic persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh are adrift in the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca, many believed to have been abandoned by their traffickers with little food or water.
Their presence has created a regionwide crisis in Southeast Asia. Most were thought to be headed to Malaysia, but after more than 1,500 migrants came ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia in the past week, both countries declared their intention to turn away any more boats carrying migrants. Thai officials have not articulated an official policy since the crisis began, but Thailand is not known to have allowed any of the migrants to land there.
This afternoon, a Thai navy speedboat arrived near the migrant boat in the Andaman Sea, having been alerted to its presence by The New York Times.
The navy vessel stayed about 100 yards away from the migrant boat, and Thai sailors appeared to be observing it, but they did not board it or send it away. At one point they tossed packages of instant noodles to the boat, but it was not clear that the migrants had any means to cook them.
“We want to watch them from afar,” said Lt. Cmdr. Veerapong Nakprasit, who was on the Thai navy boat. “We will help them fix their engine. Their intention is to go to Malaysia. They have entered illegally.”