GEULUMPANG, Indonesia - A migrant boat found off the coast of Indonesia's Aceh with hundreds of Rohingya aboard early Wednesday is a vessel that went missing more than three days ago after being spotted off Thailand, AFP journalists said.
Hundreds of men, women and children were found pleading for help last week on the drifting trawler, which has become emblematic of Southeast Asia's growing migrant crisis and the region's reluctance to offer sanctuary to the passengers.
The Thai authorities turned the boat away from Thai waters, insisting it wanted to travel to Malaysia. Fears had been growing for those on board after contact was lost with the vessel late Saturday.
Indonesian fisherman rescued more than 400 migrants early Wednesday from a green wooden vessel off the coast of Aceh.
They are among thousands who have made it to shore in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in recent days after being abandoned by people-traffickers following a crackdown on long-established routes.
AFP journalists later boarded the abandoned boat and confirmed it was the missing vessel.
Chris Lewa, from the Arakan Project, which monitors migrant journeys across the Bay of Bengal, said her group had also confirmed it was the boat.
"Our researchers in Aceh have confirmed it's the same boat," she said.
"They were totally exhausted. He (the researcher) talked to two people, very briefly. They said they had been taken out of Thai waters three times, we previously thought they had only been towed out twice by the Thais.
"But they said the worst were the Malaysians who pushed them out twice. They said the second time the Malaysians came with guns and said they'd shoot at the boat if they came back again. They said the Malaysians then shadowed the boat all the way to Indonesia."