Rescuers spot boat ‘possibly carrying 200 people’ off Canary Islands

UK says Channel crossings on small boats hit a record this winter
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Spain’s coastguard said Monday one of its rescue planes, which had been searching for a missing migrant boat, had spotted a vessel possibly carrying “around 200 people” off the Canary Islands.

“The plane has found a boat and it is possibly the one we were looking for because from the air, it could have around 200 people on board,” a spokeswoman for the Salvamento Maritimo coastguard service told AFP.

Salvamento had deployed a rescue vessel to reach the boat which was spotted about 71 nautical miles south of Gran Canaria, and would reach them within the hour, she said.

“It’s very likely it is the same boat that we’ve been looking for,” she said, referring to a boat which the coastguard had earlier said had “left Senegal with around 200 people on board”.

Helena Maleno, head of Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras that helps boats in distress, confirmed that a boat had left the southern town of “Kafountine on June 27 with approximately 200 people on board”.

“There are many minors on board,” she said in an audio message.

“The families told us about the disappearance of the boat saying they had had no news for several days.”

Kafountine is a fishing village in the southern part of Senegal, which lies at least 1,700 kilometres (over 1,000 miles) south of Spain’s Canary Islands.

She said the NGO had also been alerted about two other boats also missing at sea after leaving Senegal.

“Two of them set sail from Mbour in Senegal, one carrying between 50 and 60 people and the other, 65 people,” she said, referring to a town about 75 kilometres (50 miles) south of the capital Dakar.

Senegal, which has long had a reputation for stability, recently experienced its worst political turmoil in years after its opposition leader was jailed by a court on June 1, prompting a flareup of deadly violence.

Officials put the death toll at 16 but Amnesty International gave a higher figure of 24 while the opposition said 30 people had lost their lives.

Tensions eased on July 3 after President Macky Sall agreed he would not stand for reelection.

The Atlantic route to the Canaries is particularly dangerous due to the strong currents, with migrants travelling in overloaded boats, which are often unseaworthy, without enough drinking water.

Many of these boats leave from ports in Morocco, Western Sahara or Mauritania but they also come from countries further south such as Senegal.

According to figures released by Caminando last week, a total of 778 people died while trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands by boat in the first half of 2023.

Figures for the same period by the International Organization for Migration gave a figure of 126 dead.

Spain has long been a key entry point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, but the number of Atlantic crossings began surging in late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced Mediterranean crossings.

In the first six months of this year, a total of 7,213 migrants reached the Canary Islands by boat. That figure is nearly 20 percent lower than the 8,853 that arrived in the same period a year earlier, interior ministry figures show.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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