4 dead, 29 missing, 1 survivor found as migrant boat off Canary Islands: rescuers, NGO

MADRID: Rescue workers said they found four bodies on a migrant boat off the Canary Islands on Sunday, just hours after a lone survivor was taken to safety, with an NGO saying it set sail with 34 people on board.

The Spanish Coast Guard Salvamento Maritimo said on Twitter they recovered “the bodies of four people” from a boat about 150 nautical miles southwest of the island of Gran Canaria, with the sole survivor being rescued by a passing merchant ship on Saturday night and then evacuated by helicopter.

Helena Maleno, head of Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that helps migrant boats in distress and families looking for loved ones, said on Twitter they had received an emergency call from the same ship a week earlier after it set sail from Western Sahara was.

There were 34 people on board at the time.

“On Saturday, September 24, we received an alert about a boat that had left the coast south of Laayoun at dawn this morning,” she tweeted, saying they had alerted rescuers.

After a week with no news, a boat was spotted south of the Canary Islands “carrying an exhausted 26-year-old man and four bodies. By the end of the night we knew it was the same boat that had gone missing with 34 people on board,” she said.

“A new tragedy on one of the deadliest migration routes – the route of the Canary Islands,” said Maleno, counting “33 more victims”.

“Only four bodies were found…the remaining victims, 29 in all, were swallowed up by the ocean. Their families will grieve terribly, with no bodies to say goodbye to.

Since the beginning of the year, a total of 11,522 migrants have managed to cross the notoriously dangerous Atlantic route to Spain’s Canary Islands, a number slightly higher than the same period last year, Interior Ministry figures released September 15 show.

There are no official figures for those who died en route, but figures from Caminando Fronteras show that in the first six months of the year, 978 people died trying to reach Spain, of whom 938 drowned or were missing at sea.

The shortest route from the Moroccan coast is about 100 kilometers (60 miles), but migrants often come from much further, with Mauritania being more than 1,000 kilometers as the crow flies.

The Atlantic route is extremely dangerous due to its strong currents, as migrants often set sail in crowded, rickety boats that are far from seaworthy.

Migrant crossings to the Atlantic archipelago began to rise in late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast drastically reduced Mediterranean crossings. -AFP