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45 illegal migrants die of thirst

November 07, 2007

NOUAKCHOTT (Mauritania), Nov 6: At least 45 African migrants have died of cold and thirst after their boat ran aground in the Atlantic Ocean trying to reach Europe, a Mauritanian security official said on Tuesday.

Mauritanian soldiers who discovered the beached vessel on Monday also found 98 survivors aboard the boat, which had set sail from Senegal some 20 days ago, trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.

Of those survivors, six were in a coma and two died during the night at a hospital in Mauritania’s second city of Nouadhibou. Four others were in a critical condition. According to the official, the dead were “victims of cold, thirst and hunger and (they) were thrown overboard by the survivors”.

The group left Senegal’s southern city of Ziguinchor on Oct 16 and a week ago, the boat’s engine broke down off Morocco. Currents and winds drove it aground at Laguerra, on Mauritania’s border with Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

A Red Cross official reached by phone from the capital confirmed the survivors were extremely tired.

“We are helping with feeding, medicine and with hospital care,” a local Red Cross official Mohamed Ould Hamada said.

Local administrative officials said the migrants were mainly from Senegal, with a few from Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Gambia.

An unknown number of migrants die every year trying to reach the Canaries.

The Canary Islands have been a magnet in recent years for mainly sub-Saharan immigrants aspiring to reach Europe after a security crackdown in Morocco and two Spanish enclaves there.

Recent days have seen an upsurge of departures despite the stepped-up maritime patrols off Africa’s Atlantic coast by the European Union border agency Frontex, which cooperates with some west African nations.

The surveillance system is considered water tight, but migrants try to avoid it by setting sail from the unmonitored Gambian waters and later take on to the international waters.—AFP