Vietnam vessel saves 154 Rohingya from sinking boat, transfers to Myanmar navy

HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese oil service vessel rescued 154 people from a sinking boat in the Andaman Sea and has transferred them to Myanmar's navy, state media reported, a group that was confirmed by activists as minority Rohingya Muslims.

The vessel, Hai Duong 29, was en route from Singapore to Myanmar when it spotted the boat in distress 285 miles (458.7 km) south of the Myanmar coast on Wednesday, VTCNews said in a report aired late on Thursday.

The Rohingya are a minority that has for years been persecuted in Myanmar and many risk their lives attempting to reach predominantly Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia on rickety boats.

Their exodus from Myanmar and from the squalor of refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, has increased after a deadly 2017 crackdown by the military, which is now in charge in Myanmar after a 2021 coup.

The boat's engine was not working and water was leaking into its hull, the VTCNews report said, adding it sank one hour after those aboard had been saved. Of the 154 people rescued, 40 were women and 31 were children.

They were handed over to Myanmar's navy on Thursday, the report said. It was not immediately clear what would happen to them and a spokesperson for Myanmar's junta could not immediately be reached by Reuters.

Vietnam's foreign ministry and the owner of the Vietnamese vessel, Hai Duong Petroleum and Marine Corp (Haduco), did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) last week said there had been a "dramatic increase" in the number of people attempting to cross the Andaman Sea between Myanmar and Bangladesh this year.

At least 1,900 people have made the crossing so far in 2022, six times more than in 2020, with at least 119 deaths this year among those trying to flee.

(Reporting by Khanh Vu; Additional reporting by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Martin Petty)

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