47 Spain-bound migrants feared dead off Mauritania

Published August 18, 2021
This file photo shows migrants waiting to be taken to the Spanish NGO Maydayterraneo's Aita Mari rescue boat during the rescue of 65 migrants in the Mediterranean international waters off the Libyan coast. — AFP
This file photo shows migrants waiting to be taken to the Spanish NGO Maydayterraneo's Aita Mari rescue boat during the rescue of 65 migrants in the Mediterranean international waters off the Libyan coast. — AFP

DAKAR: Forty-seven migrants are feared to have died off the coast of Mauritania after a boat was found drifting with seven survivors on board, an official with the UN’s migration agency said on Tuesday.

The boat “most probably” left the Laayoune region of Western Sahara on August 3, heading for the Spanish archipelago of the Canaries, Nicolas Hochart of the International Office for Migration (IOM) said.

But it suffered an engine failure and drifted for nearly two weeks before being spotted by Mauritanian coastguards on Monday off Nouadhibou, he said.

Fifty-four people, including two children aged under three and a teenage girl, were aboard at the start of the trip, he said, quoting testimony from survivors. They were from West Africa, he said, without giving further details.

“If everything goes well, the trip takes several days at the most,” Hochart said.

But “when the engine failed, they had no backup supplies” of food and water, he said.

The migration route from the northwestern African coast to the Canaries, a gateway to the European Union, has suffered a string of tragedies in recent years.

At its shortest, the crossing is around 100 kilometres, but it is a notoriously dangerous route because of strong currents. Vessels are also typically overcrowded and in poor condition.

Several hundred people have died or gone missing attempting the trip since the start of the year, Hochart said.

In April, 17 people were found dead on a boat drifting off the Canary island of El Hierro. Three survivors were winched to safety by a Spanish military helicopter.

In 2020, 1,851 people died on the route, according to the Caminando Fronteras organisation which monitors migrant flows.

Rights groups have said that the Covid-19 crisis may have contributed to the migratory surge by hitting tourism, fishing and other areas of casual labour.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2021

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