updated 1/17/2009 6:15:15 PM ET 2009-01-17T23:15:15

Hundreds of people are missing and feared dead after boats carrying about 400 African migrants capsized Saturday near Yemen, a U.N. official said.

At least a dozen bodies have washed ashore in Yemen, said Laila Nassif, who heads the United Nations High Commission for Refugees office in the coastal city of Aden.

Nassif said two boats carrying some 300 migrants capsized in the Red Sea. Only 30 people have been rescued so far, and rescue efforts were complicated by bad weather in the area, Nassif said.

In another incident, a boat carrying 120 migrants capsized in the Arabian Sea and 80 of the migrants made it safely to shore, Nassif said.

All of the ships originated in Somalia, the U.N. official said.

Hundreds of Africans die every year trying to reach Yemen, with many drowning or being attacked by pirates and smugglers in the dangerous waters separating Somalia and the Arabian peninsula.

The U.N. refugee agency last year reported that more than 43,500 migrants — mostly Somalis — arrived illegally by boat to Yemen.

In 2007, Yemen reported more than 1,400 dead and missing while crossing to its shores from Africa.

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