LANGSA (AFP) - Harrowing tales emerged yesterday of people killing and throwing one another overboard after more than 700 migrants aboard two vessels were rescued and taken ashore in Aceh, in northern Sumatra.
Turned away from Malaysian waters and carrying 712 people, including 61 children, one vessel was sinking when it was sighted by Indonesian fishermen, who took survivors ashore, according to local reports. Forty-seven others from another vessel were rescued after they leapt into the water pleading for help.
The migrants, identified by police as Bangladeshis and Rohingya from Myanmar, had been at sea for two months.
Pictures showed the migrants, who were taken to a warehouse in Langsa after being taken ashore early yesterday by six fishing boats, looking exhausted, with many wearing just shorts and sarongs.
"They were killing each other, throwing people overboard," Mr Sunarya, the police chief in Langsa, told Agence France-Presse.
"Because (there) was overcapacity (on the boat), some people had to go and probably they were defending themselves," he added.
Mr Khairul Nova, a search- and-rescue agency official in Langsa, said the migrants began jumping from the listing boat when they saw the fishermen approaching, desperate to be rescued.
"Their condition is generally bad, some of them have died at sea," he said, without giving further details. "They were starving at sea, they fought among themselves."
He said that some had sustained injuries to their heads, arms and legs and had been taken to hospital. The boat was about 50km off the coast when it was spotted, Mr Sunarya said.
He said the group had entered Malaysian waters, the preferred destination of many migrants in the region, in several boats but were then caught by the Malaysian Navy, which herded them into one boat and pushed them towards Indonesian waters.
Despite the Indonesian authorities' previous pledge to turn back boats, Mr Sunarya said several government agencies were now involved in helping the rescued migrants.
"It is for humanitarian reasons. Whoever they are, we should help because the boat was sinking and there were children swimming (around it)," he added.
The new arrivals brought the total number of migrants sheltered in Aceh to more than 1,300.
Separately, the Thai Navy said it found a group of 106 people, mostly men but including 15 women and two children, on a small island off the coast of Phang Nga province.
"It's not clear how they ended up on the island," Phang Nga provincial governor Prayoon Rattanasenee was quoted as saying in The Bangkok Post. The group said they were Rohingya migrants from Myanmar. "We are in the process of identifying if they were victims of human trafficking."