A BOAT packed with Somali migrants came under attack off Yemen’s coast close to a strategic Red Sea strait leaving at least 42 people dead.

According to UN agency International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the victims carried UNHCR papers.

Laurent De Boeck, IOM chief in Sanaa, said the agency believes all the people on board the stricken vessel were refugees, but it was not immediately clear where they came from in Somalia.

A news agency in Yemen run by the country’s Shiite rebels said the attack was an airstrike off the coast of Hodeida province. It did not say who was behind the airstrike.

The Saudi-led coalition, fighting alongside Yemen’s internationally recognised government, has accused the Shiite Houthi rebels of using Hodeida as a smuggling route for weapons. There was no immediate comment from the coalition.

De Boeck added that the 77 survivors pulled out of the water were taken to a detention centre in Hodieda.

He said the IOM is in contact with the hospital, clinics, and the detention centre to provide the necessary medical care the victims.

In Geneva, IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters that he was unable to confirm news reports indicating that an Apache helicopter gunship was responsible for the attack.

“Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals,” he told reporters.

The coastal province has been under heavy airstrikes over the past two years since the coalition joined the conflict in support of the government.

African migrants continue to head to Yemen, a transit point to Saudi Arabia where they seek jobs and a better life.

On its Twitter account, the UNHCR said it was “appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen”.