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UPDATE March 17, 12:13 ET: The UN says 42 bodies have been recovered after the attack on the refugee boat, the BBC reported

A UN agency said on March 17 that at least 31 people had died after an apparent helicopter gunship attack on a boat near Yemen late on March 16, AP reported.

Around 80 people were rescued and taken to hospital, including 24 in “extremely critical” condition, according to International Organization for Migration spokesperson, Joel Millman.

The boat was carrying Somali refugees when it was attacked off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, AP reported.

Mohamed al-Alay, a coastguard in the Hudaydah area, said the refugees were carrying UNHCR documents and were travelling from Yemen to Sudan when their boat was attacked by an Apache helicopter, the Guardian reported.

The IOM’s Millman told a UN news briefing in Geneva that he was unable to confirm reports that an Apache helicopter was responsible for the attack.

A port official who spoke the AFP refuted the helicopter attacks saying the refugees were hit by light weapons fire off Hudaydah but the boat managed to dock.

Earlier, the Houthi-controlled SABA news agency said the airstrike took place in the Red Sea, close to the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

A Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government fight against Shiite Houthi rebels has been conducting heavy airstrikes in the region for two years.

Saudi Arabia operates US-built Apache A-64 Longbow attack helicopters.

Live updates

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