(CNN) -- An attempt to flee war-torn Somalia ended in tragedy when a boat carrying dozens of Somalis capsized in the Gulf of Aden, killing all but one person on board, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday.
Fifty-four of those reported dead were Somali refugees, while another three were smugglers, the U.N. said. The only survivor swam for 23 hours before he reached the coast of Yemen, the agency said.
The boat sank four nautical miles from the Radhom district in Yemen's Shabwa province on Sunday, according to Yemen's official Saba news agency, citing the Yemeni Interior Ministry.
The 42-year-old man who survived the incident told officials that he and his wife and three children had boarded the small two-engine boat in northern Somalia Friday night, trying to leave the fighting in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, behind them. The boat took on water after being repeatedly hit by strong waves, he said, before it eventually capsized.
"We are horrified by this latest tragedy that adds to the terrible suffering of the Somali people," said Antonio Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees. "The Gulf of Aden remains one of the deadliest routes for those fleeing the fatal mix of conflict, violence and human rights abuses in the Horn of Africa."
According to the U.N. refugee agency, Sunday's incident marks perhaps the largest single loss of life in the seas between Somalia and Yemen since January 2008, when smugglers forced 135 people to get off a boat. Of those who fell into the water, 114 drowned.
A total of 89 people, including the most recent deaths, have drowned or gone missing in the waters between Somalia and Yemen this year, the U.N. said.