More than 30 Somali refugees including women and children have been shot dead aboard a boat in the Red Sea off the coast of war-torn Yemen, officials said Friday.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
The refugees were hit by light weapons fire in waters off rebel-held Hodeida but managed to dock in the city’s port, an official there said.
The bodies of 33 refugees were taken to hospitals where 35 wounded were also admitted, a hospital official said.
The International Organization for Migration said 80 survivors were rescued and taken to hospital, including 24 in “extremely critical” condition.
“Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths,” said spokesman Joel Millman.
The port official said dozens of Somalis who survived the attack, as well as three Yemeni traffickers, had been taken to the city’s prison.
The rebel-controlled Saba agency accused the Saudi-led coalition battling the insurgents of attacking the refugees from the air but did not provide further details.
There was no immediate comment from the coalition, which has been backing pro-government forces waging an offensive from the south to retake Yemen’s Red Sea coast from Huthi forces.
It was unclear whether those on board were trying to leave Yemen or seek refuge there, but the IOM said it believed the boat was heading for Sudan.
Despite a war that has cost more than 7,000 lives since March 2015 and brought Yemen to the brink of famine, the country continues to attract people fleeing the horn of Africa.
Several refugee camps in southern Yemen are hosting Somali refugees, although not in the Hodeida area.
Civilians bear the brunt
The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR said that as conditions worsen in Yemen, refugees are leaving the country from further north than previously.
It called on all sides in Yemen’s war to protect civilians.
“UNHCR is appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen,” it said.
The coast south of Hodeida has seen violent clashes over the past 24 hours, leaving 32 dead including 10 civilians, according to military and medical officials.
The fighting killed 14 rebels and eight soldiers supporting UN-backed government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, military sources said.
That came as pro-Hadi forces sought to advance northwards from the port town of Mokha in an offensive to retake Yemen’s western coast from Huthi rebel forces.
Saudi-led coalition aircraft had taken part in the assault, the same sources said.
Seven fishermen were also killed off Hodeida by gunfire from an unidentified source, while a further seven were killed in a car near Mokha, hospital workers said.
The UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has called Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with two-thirds of the population in need of aid.