By Mark Doyle
BBC News, Bossasso
People smugglers operating in north-eastern Somalia will face the death penalty, the region’s leader has told the BBC.
Over the past year, some 1,400 people are estimated by the United Nations to be missing, believed drowned, while trying to escape poverty and fighting.
The boat people of the Horn of Africa set off from this bustling port of Bossasso on the Gulf of Aden.
They hope to make the perilous two or three-day sea journey to Yemen.
Many of those that survive the voyage then go on to seek jobs in Saudi Arabia or other Gulf States.
But thousands have drowned in the bright, choppy waters, often because they are pushed off the boats before the vessels make it to the Yemeni coast.
And most can’t swim.
The travellers are mostly Somalis fleeing fighting in the southern parts of Somalia and people from neighbouring Ethiopia seeking refuge from a border war there.
Northern Somalia is relatively stable compared with the war-torn region in the south around the capital Mogadishu, where the central government is fighting an Islamist insurgency.
The authorities here in the north, who have declared a semi-autonomous region known as Puntland, want to stop the people smugglers.
Puntland’s President Mohammed Muse Hersi said the death penalty would henceforth be used against the human traders.
He said he was tired of his relatively stable area being associated with the widespread fighting in the south of the country.
He pointed to a new airport that is being built in Bossasso and the busy seaport here as evidence of economic progress in this part of Somalia.