A small fishing boat carrying up to 42 Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar capsized in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday (31 October), leaving at least four dead.

It is not clear how many people are still missing, with one Bangladeshi official saying 23 people were rescued and a dozen were being treated. Among the dead were a woman and three children, UN aid workers said.

At least 200 Rohingya have now drowned making the dangerous sea crossing to Bangladesh since Myanmar's security forces launched what the UN and others have described as "ethnic cleansing" in late August.

The brutal scorched-earth tactics used on villages in the country's Rakhine state have seen some 600,000 Rohingya flee to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Myanmar's Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya are a separate ethnic group and regards them as having migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although they have lived in Myanmar for generations.

The country's military say the crackdown over recent months is in response to attacks on security outposts by Rohingya militants. The UN has condemned the retaliation as "disproportionate".

The UN refugee agency said Tuesday's deaths came after 42 people from six families – many women and children – left on a fishing boat in Rakhine at around 2am local time (7.30pm GMT, Monday).

The boat hit rough seas and capsized near Inani beach in Cox's Bazar district, which borders Myanmar, trapping people underneath.

"The boat was hit by large waves and eventually capsized, trapping people underneath," the UN refugee agency said. "Several were injured when they hit the engine. A 15-year-old boy died on the spot."

Survivors gave harrowing accounts of their journey to aid workers at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Gulbahar, a female survivor aged in her late 20s, was found in poor condition having swallowed sea water.

"When the boat came close to Bangladesh coast, two or three people jumped off when they saw land," she recalled.

"The boat then lost balance in the stormy weather and capsized. As soon as that happened, I was in the water and didn't know where my children were.

"A man grabbed my hair and pulled me up from the sea and suddenly I could breath again. Everyone in the boat was carrying all the valuables they owned – they were all lost."

Another female survivor added: "When the boat capsized, I fell into the water and lost hold of my child. After a few seconds, a man helped me get her back ... When we were rescued, the doctors found that my baby was near death and an ambulance took us to this hospital."

The incident came just hours after a separate tragedy saw three Rohingya babies slip from their mothers' clutches and drown as they approached the Bangladesh shore.