Jakarta – The captain abandoned a boat carrying migrants from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority and Bangladesh before the passengers steered the vessel to shore off Aceh province over the weekend, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
At least 582 people from the Malaysia-bound boat were rescued Sunday after their boat was found drifting at sea, the IOM said.
“The captain left the ship when it was close to shore,” said IOM Indonesia chief Mark Getchell, citing accounts from a Bangladeshi. “The captain jumped into a speedboat and escaped.”
“Luckily, the passengers were able to steer the ship toward the beach,” he said.
Getchell said people-smuggling was “a ruthless business.”
“When [people-smugglers) have collected the money they don’t want to be on the boat when they are reaching land. They leave the boat stranded and hope that the passengers are lucky enough to make it to safety,” he said.
He said about 350 of the migrants now sheltered in Aceh were Bangladeshis, while the rest were Rohingyas from Myanmar.
All the Bangladeshis are male adults while the Rohingyas include children and women, he said.
One Bangladeshi told the organization that he paid smugglers 7,000 Malaysian ringgit (about 2,000 dollars) for the journey.
“There are 582 people and maybe there are 852 different reasons why they wanted to go to Malaysia,” Getchell said.
The IOM sent seven people including doctors and a Rohingya interpreter to North Aceh, he said.
Rohingya Muslims are a stateless minority in predominately Buddhist Myanmar and have suffered decades of state-sanctioned discrimination and ethnic violence.
In recent years thousands of them have made perilous journeys by boat to Malaysia to seek better lives, but sometimes ended up stranded in Indonesia.