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13 African refugees drown in US Navy rescue attempt

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Thirteen refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia drowned Monday when their skiff capsized while it was receiving humanitarian assistance from the United States, the US Navy said today in a statement.

The Navy said it was able to save 61 other refugees from the boat that capsized off the coast of Somalia. They are among the tens of thousands of refugees from the Horn of Africa who had fled from deteriorating security conditions, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported in the past. In 2007, "tiny fishing vessels carried 26,000 men, women, and children – a record number – from Somalia to Yemen." In 2009, that number rose to 74,000 people, according to the UN.

In the latest incident, the USS Winston S. Churchill on Sunday first identified a skiff drifting in the Gulf of Aden with 85 refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia.

"Using a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB), Churchill crew members boarded the skiff and immediately rendered assistance, providing food and water to the skiff's passengers," according to the statement posted on the US Navy website.

The RHIB then began towing the skiff toward the coast of Somalia. Later, "while transferring humanitarian supplies to the skiff, the passengers rushed to one side and the skiff began taking on water, quickly capsizing and sinking rapidly, leaving all 85 passengers in the water," the statement said, adding that 13 people drowned.

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