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Drowning before my eyes

Yemen (Aden) – I cannot forget 21 March 2009 when twelve Africans, Somalis and Ethiopians, drowned before my eyes when their vessel capsized shortly after docking in the Yemeni port of Aden. The boat, which was carrying 104 people from the Horn of Africa, had been found adrift in the Gulf of Aden by a French frigate on 19 March and towed to the Yemeni coast.

It was around four in the afternoon when my UNHCR colleagues Leila, Myra and Miriam and I spotted the vessel on the horizon while being towed to Steamer Point pier in Aden. We were there for an easy mission to register the asylum applications of the new arrivals, in case any of them wanted to seek asylum.

I went to the port hoping that I could tell for once a happily-ending story of rescue at sea. But a major tragedy was waiting to happen. As soon as the boat docked, the passengers rushed to one side of the vessel to disembark causing the boat to capsize. As people were falling overboard, I froze for a long minute in shock. I found myself powerless before the tragedy unfolding a few meters away. I dropped my camera with the intention of jumping into the sea to help rescue the unfortunate passengers. I did not. I do not know whether it was fear or need to stick to my role. I grabbed my camera again and captured those tragic moments between life and death.

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