A military vessel and a helicopter gunship attacked a boat packed with Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen, killing at least 42 people, according to a UN agency, Yemeni officials and a survivor who witnessed the attack.
Yemen's Shiite rebels accused the Saudi-led coalition of carrying out the attack. The coalition has been heavily bombarding the nearby coast around the Yemeni city of Hodeida, and it accuses the rebels, known as Houthis, of smuggling weapons into the port in small boats. There was no immediate coalition comment.
A Yemeni trafficker who survived the attack said the boat was filled with Somali refugees, including women and children, who were trying to reach Sudan from war-torn Yemen.
Al-Hassan Ghaleb Mohammed told The Associated Press the boat left from Ras Arra, along the southern coastline in Yemen's Hodeida province when the military vessel and then the helicopter gunship opened fire.
He described a scene of panic in which the refugees held up flashlights, apparently to show that they were poor migrants. He said the helicopter then stopped firing, but only after dozens had been killed. Mohammed was unharmed in the attack.
A top official with the UN's migration agency said 42 bodies have been recovered from the attack. Mohammed Abdiker, emergencies director at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, said the attack at around 3am on Friday was "totally unacceptable" and that responsible combatants should have checked who was aboard the boat "before firing on it".
He said about 75 men and 15 women who survived the attack were taken to detention centres, and some bodies were laid in a fish market in the town of Hodeida because of a lack of space in mortuaries.