DHAKA: A Bangladeshi Coast Guard said on Thursday that it has rescued 396 starving Rohingyas who had been drifting at sea for weeks following their failed attempt to reach Malaysia while nearly 50 of them died due to ailments and malnutrition during the period.
"We have handed them over to UNHCR (UN refugee agency) to be quarantined for 14 days," Coast Guard's station commander in southeastern Cox's Bazar Lieutenant Commander Sohel Rana said.
He said many of the rescued Rohingyas would stay at a cyclone shelter in Teknaf coastlines which was overnight converted into a quarantine centre.
Rana's comments came a day after coastguards rescued and detained the mostly emaciated Rohingyas, including 64 minor children, when they were trying to secretly land at a ferry terminal in Teknaf after floating for 58 days.
One of the rescued Rohingyas told a journalist near the scene that they managed to get onboard a ship through small boats sneaking out of their camps in Cox's Bazar to be ferried to Malaysia under a contract with 'Myanmar middlemen'.
"We twice tried to disembark in Malaysian coast but were chased away by their navy. Then the ship tried to take us to Thailand where the Thai navy also barred us from landing," said 34-year old Moahmmad Salam.
He said that during the return journey the Myanmar navy redirected the ship to Bangladesh when it reached near the Burmese coastline where the 11 Myanmar middlemen disembarked.
Another Rohingya, 23-year Mohammad Zobair, said that at the start of the journey they were 450 in number but dozens of their compatriots perished as they drifted on the sea having little food and water.
"The Thai navy and some fishing boats, however, gave us food and water to survive. We threw bodies of the deceased into the sea," Zobair said.
Nearly one million Rohingyas fled a crackdown by Myanmar's military in 2017 in Rakhine state and are living in camps in Cox's Bazar.
Myanmar has faced international pressure to allow Rohingyas to return to Rakhine and grant them citizenship rights.