BANGKOK, Thailand -- Pirates have killed 17 Vietnamese boat people, including four small children, raising to 372 the number of refugees confirmed killed this year by sea marauders, reports from southern Thailand said Friday.
Fishermen found two young Vietnamese women, sole survivors from a boatload of 19 refugees, and brought them to a beach near Pattani, 500 miles south of Bangkok, sources said.
The women, both in their early 20s, told police a tale of brutal plunder, rape and murder on the sea.
Pirates attacked the boat Oct. 25, two days after the small craft slipped away from the Vietnamese coast, they said.
After robbing the refugees of their valuables, the pirates threw the Vietnamese men into the sea to drown.
The pirates took three women and four children aboard the pirate vessel where the women were repeatedly raped. On Nov. 4, all seven of the women and children also were tossed overboard to die.
The two survivors said they managed to stay afloat in the sea until friendly fishermen picked them up.
The fishermen fed and nursed them for several hours but became fearful they would be blamed for the attack and threw the two young women back into the sea.
Another fishing boat passed by shortly thereafter, rescued the two again and brought them to shore.
More than 80 percent of the 400 refugee boats that have reached Thailand so far this year reported being attacked by pirates. Approximately 540 Vietnamese women aboard those boats reported they had been raped by the marauders.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is trying to raise $3.6 million to support the Thai navy in its war against pirates in the Gulf of Siam.
The funds would provide the Thais with spotter aircraft and speedy patrol boats.
Piracy is a centuries-old problem in the Gulf of Siam where Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese pirates have long preyed on shipping.
Officials say more and more fishermen are turning to piracy as dwindling catches in the overfished gulf drive them to poverty.