DHAKA- Seven Bangladeshi nationals were rescued on Monday off the Myanmar coast after they were thrown from a fishing trawler packed with migrants heading to Malaysia, a coast guard officer said.
Dickson Chowdhury said the seven men had been pulled from the Bay of Bengal by fishermen from Myanmar and handed over to local Bangladeshi fishermen.
"A Thai fishing trawler threw them into the Bay of Bengal. A Myanmar boat rescued them and handed [them] over to a Bangladeshi fishing boat. They are now under our custody," said Chowdhury, the station commander.
He said the seven had told coast guard officers there were three boats in the area packed with migrants from Bangladesh and neighbouring Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya minority.
"They told us that the three boats were parked five miles (eight kilometres) south of Myanmar's Sitaparokia coast. In one boat there were 68 people and the two others have more than 100 people each," Chowdhury said.
The claims could not immediately be verified by other government agencies.
But a migrant stuck in one of the ships told private television station Jamuna TV that it was carrying more than 200 Bangladeshis in Myanmar waters.
"At this moment we are now in a ship in the sea in Myanmar," said the migrant, who was not named.
"There are Burmese (Rohingya) and Bangladeshis in the ship. The number of Bangladeshis in the ship would be 200-250." The illegal migrant, who left his village more than a month ago, said the smugglers were charging migrants US$650 (S$858) each as a fee for sending them back home.
Chowdhury said the coast guard was investigating the phone call and had stepped up sea patrols.
Thousands of poor Bangladeshis and persecuted ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar attempt the perilous journey to Malaysia and other Southeast Asian nations every year.
Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have sparked outrage by turning away some overloaded vessels, and thousands of migrants are still believed to be stranded at sea after a Thai crackdown disrupted long-established people-smuggling and -trafficking routes.
Nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off the three nations over the past week.
Bangladesh's police and border forces have also launched a crackdown on the smugglers.
Impoverished Bangladeshis pay up to US$3,000 to smugglers who claim high-paying jobs are waiting for them in Malaysia, which like Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority nation.