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Three babies among nine migrants drowned off Morocco

Hundreds of migrants attempt the voyage each year

Published: Updated:

Three babies were among nine illegal migrants who died on Friday after their inflatable vessel capsized off the coast of Morocco, police said.

A police operation "rescued 21 people and recovered nine bodies, three of whom were babies," according to a statement from authorities in the northern province of Tangiers-Tetouan.

Tangiers and Tetouan are some of the closest African cities to Europe, where southern Spain is visible to the naked eye across the Straits of Gibraltar.

Hundreds of migrants attempt the voyage each year.

In June, Moroccan authorities said they had intercepted nearly 200 asylum seekers trying to reach Europe on inflatable rafts.

A month earlier, at least two migrants died attempting to make the 20-kilometre (12-mile) journey between Tangiers and southern Spain. Eight people were rescued.

The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast have also seen migrants attempt entry on several occasions this year.

Morocco says there are around 30,000 illegal migrants on its territory, and has launched a drive to regularize several thousand asylum seekers.

The United Nations says that more than 3,400 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat from North Africa in 2014.