Published on 20 May 2015 Sections , , ,

Nightmare at sea ends for the 'green boat' migrants

The mystery of the ‘green boat’ was solved this morning when 400-odd occupants of a rickety fishing trawler turned up on the Indonesian coast in the early hours of this morning.

The mystery of the ‘green boat’ was solved this morning when 400-odd occupants of a rickety fishing trawler turned up on the Indonesian coast in the early hours of this morning.

For those on board, who were reportedly in tears when officials found them, it was a wondrous moment, marking their return to civilization after several horrifying months at sea.

Rohingya and Bangleshi migrants wait on board a fishing boat before being transported to shore, off the coast of Julok

As the survivors began to talk about their experiences, however, their treatment at the hands of the Thai and Malaysian authorities seem to have very little to do with the concept of civilization.

The ‘green boat’ was discovered by journalists last Thursday a few hundred metres from a popular tourist destination called Lipe Island, close to the Malaysian border.

Crammed both above and below the main desk were migrants from Bangladesh fleeing grinding poverty and Muslims from Burma called the Rohingya – a group described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people.

The vast majority looked rake thin and complained of desperate thirst and hunger.

Towed out to sea

The boat had been drifting for weeks after its Thai crew had abandoned it and passengers were able to raise the alarm by calling family members on land. The fact that had been able to do this has surprised activists and NGO officials – those people who pay the smugglers and traffickers to take them to Malaysia typically have their phones and other personal possessions stripped from them.

However, this programme understands that three gang members remain on the ‘green boat’ and allowed passengers to use their phones to alert people to their collective peril.

Of course, the Thais and Malaysian authorities have shown little interest over the past few weeks in the safety and security of the people of the ‘green boat’. According to those survivors now in Indonesia, their clapped-out vessel was towed out to sea three times by the Thais and twice by the Malaysians.

A fishing boat carrying Rohingya and Bangleshi migrants is pulled to shore by Achenese fisherman off the coast of Julok

The Malaysian Navy stands accused of pointing guns at the passengers and threatened to bomb the boat if they dared to return.

It seems the people of the ‘green boat’ – both migrants and the brokers – had little choice but to head across the Malacca Strait towards Indonesia, a four-day crossing in their sub-standard craft. But the nightmare continued.

Fights reportedly broke out between groups of Bangladeshis and Rohingya as food and water supplies dwindled. Upon sighting an Indonesian fishing boat, eighteen passengers jumped off the ‘green boat’ and swam for three hours to alert the crew of the smaller craft.

We been told the captain then communicated with the Indonesia authorities who then did what both the Thais and the Malaysians had refused to do. They acted with compassion and brought these desperate souls to shore.

The vessel that vanished has been found then, but campaigners say they are thousands of others out there on the Andaman Sea facing the same battle for survival.

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