RESCUE personnel pull clothes belonging to one of the victims from the ocean in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, after the sinking.—AFP
RESCUE personnel pull clothes belonging to one of the victims from the ocean in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, after the sinking.—AFP

DAKAR: At least 15 people, thought to be migrants, were killed when their wooden boat capsized off the Senegalese capital Dakar, a local official said on Monday.

Police and rescue workers were still looking for more bodies after the pirogue overturned overnight Sunday to Monday.

“The navy told the vessel to draw alongside and they fled,” district deputy mayor Samba Kandji said. “Some jumped off but didn’t know how to swim,” he said.

Dakar fire chief commander Martial Ndione told reporters “a total of 17 victims have been counted, including 15 lifeless bodies and two survivors”.

“This morning, at around 3:30am (local time), we were alerted to a capsized pirogue off Ouakam. Immediately, two teams of divers and four ambulances were dispatched to the scene, and operations got underway,” said Ndione.

He gave no details of the boat’s origin, the number of people still being sought, or the circumstances of the capsize A wooden boat, which several witnesses on the beach said had been carrying the victims, could be seen floating near the shore.

A journalist saw fire department workers recover a body and place it on a tarpaulin on the beach. Dozens of onlookers on the beach watched the drama unfold.

One of them, 23-year-old Amndy Moustapha Sene, said he dreams of becoming a professional footballer and playing in Europe.

“I dreamed of going to Europe because there is no future here. I was ready to board a pirogue, but now I’ve decided to emigrate legally when the opportunity arises,” he said, noting the boats were too risky.

Activity has increased in recent weeks along the Atlantic sea route from northwest Africa used by migrants to try to reach Europe via Spain’s Canary Islands.

At least 14 people died in mid-July when a pirogue capsized off Senegal’s Saint-Louis, near the border with Mauritania.

Morocco’s navy said it had rescued nearly 900 irregular migrants in a one-week period this month. Most were from sub-Saharan Africa.

NGOs regularly report fatal shipwrecks in Moroccan, Spanish and international waters, with unofficial estimates putting the death toll in the dozens, if not hundreds.

According to the NGO Caminando Fronteras, search operations have taken place recently around Spain, seeking migrant boats from Senegal carrying over 300 people, which have gone missing.

During a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Senegalese President Macky Sall, “paid tribute to the memory of those who died in recent accidents at sea”.

He called on the government to intensify controls at potential departure sites, as well as to deploy more “measures of surveillance, to raise awareness and support for youth” and reinforce public programmes that “combat clandestine emigration”.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2023

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