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Nearly 200 African migrants were feared drowned on Tuesday after a boat carrying them to Saudi Arabia caught fire off Sudan's northeastern coast, a semiofficial news agency reported.
Three people were rescued, the news agency, the Sudan Media Center, reported. The boat had departed from Red Sea State, one of Sudan's 26 states, and sailed for four hours in Sudanese territorial waters before the fire broke out, the news agency said.
The local authorities were still searching for possible survivors, it said. The report could not be independently confirmed.
The news agency said that the effort to smuggle the illegal migrants into Saudi Arabia was planned in Port Sudan, which is a main port in Sudan and the capital of Red Sea State. The boat sank south of Sawaken, which is at the south tip of Red Sea State, the agency reported.
The report said the owners of the boat, all Yemenis, had been arrested.
Human trafficking is rife in Sudan as smugglers use locally manufactured boats and take advantage of lawless areas in the conflict-ridden country.
There have been several other instances of illegal migrants drowning off the coast of Sudan on their way to nearby countries in the past. Thousands of African migrants, especially Eritreans and Ethiopians, risk the dangerous routes to escape conflicts in their countries and to seek better lives in oil-rich states in North Africa and the Middle East.
In early June, a ship carrying about 850 migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya capsized off Tunisia, and 150 of the passengers drowned. (AP July 5, 2011).