300 Sri Lankan migrants rescued off Vietnam

More than 300 suspected migrants from Sri Lanka were rescued off the coast of Vietnam after their boat began taking on water, Vietnamese authorities said on Tuesday.

The Myanmar-flagged Lady 3 fishing vessel encountered difficulties around 250 nautical miles off Vung Tau on Vietnam’s southern coast, according to Vietnam’s Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Centre which said the boat was thought to be heading to Canada, about 6,000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.

“There was an issue with the ship which meant water flowed into the engine room and could not be fixed since November 5,” the centre said.

After the captain called for help on Monday, Vietnamese authorities asked a Japanese-flagged ship sailing nearby to rescue the Sri Lankans. The vessel was drifting with a lot of panicked people gathering on the deck, the rescue centre said.

All 303 people, including 20 children, were brought safely to Vung Tau.

Foreign debt-ridden Sri Lanka has for months faced severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines — along with rampant inflation and running blackouts — after running out of foreign exchange to import essential goods. Security officials have said the spiralling economic crisis may be encouraging unlawful emigration.

A surge in people-smuggling attempts to Australia by boat prompted Canberra and Colombo to set up a special monitoring centre after fitting fishing boats with GPS tracking devices to curb dangerous human trafficking journeys.

The United Nations on Tuesday warned of a worsening food crisis in bankrupt Sri Lanka and said the number of people needing urgent humanitarian help had doubled to 3.4 million.

UN agencies had estimated in June that 1.7 million out of the 22 million population in Sri Lanka required help.

The UN agencies in Colombo in a joint statement said they had raised $79 million to feed those in need, but the increasing number of poor people meant they needed an additional $70 million. “Food insecurity in Sri Lanka has increased dramatically due to two consecutive seasons of poor harvests, foreign exchange shortages, and reduced household purchasing power,” the statement said.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 and has been enduring runaway inflation, power blackouts, and fuel rationing since last year. The country defaulted on its $51 billion external debt in mid April and is in talks with the IMF for a $2.9 billion bailout.

Months of protests against high prices and shortages of food and medicines led to the toppling of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July.

The UN said its revised plan aims at feeding 2.1 million people, including pregnant mothers and school children and providing livelihood support to 1.5 million farmers and fishermen. It also said that the poverty rate in the South Asian nation has doubled to 25.6 percent this year, up from 13.1 percent last year.


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