89 migrants dead at sea off Mauritania

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Nearly 90 migrants bound for Europe perished when their boat capsized earlier this week off the coast of Mauritania, the state news agency and a local official said Thursday, while dozens more remain missing.

“The Mauritanian coast guard recovered the bodies of 89 people aboard a large traditional fishing boat that capsized on Monday July 1 on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean” about four kilometers from the country’s southwest city of Ndiago, the state news agency said.

The coastguard rescued nine people, including a five-year-old girl, it said.

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The agency quoted survivors saying that the boat had set sail from the border of Senegal and Gambia with 170 passengers on board, bringing the number of missing to 72.

A senior local government official gave AFP similar information, on condition of anonymity.

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

But it has grown in popularity due to increased vigilance in the Mediterranean.

The number of migrants landing at Spain’s Canary Islands in 2023 more than doubled in one year to a record 39,910, according to the Spanish government.

Off the coast of North Africa, Spain’s Canary Islands lie 100 kilometers away at their closest point.

But many boats -- often long wooden vessels known as pirogues -- leave from much further away, setting sail from Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Gambia and Senegal.

More than 5,000 migrants died while trying to reach Spain by sea in the first five months of this year, or the equivalent of 33 deaths per day, according to Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish charity.

That is the highest daily number of deaths since it began collating figures in 2007, and the vast majority were on the Atlantic route.

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