At least five people died off the Canary Islands on board a rickety boat carrying dozens of African migrants, although only one body was recovered, Spanish officials said on Tuesday.
The coastguard discovered the body when they intercepted the boat, with those on board telling them another four people had died en route but their bodies “were no longer on the boat”, sources from the government’s delegation in the Canary Islands told AFP.
As well as the dead man, a total of 47 remaining migrants were taken to Arguineguin port on Gran Canaria, an emergency services spokeswoman said, adding that two were treated for slight injuries.
Over the weekend, Spain’s Salvamento Maritimo coast guard rescued 107 people off the Atlantic archipelago, as the migrant surge showed no letup following a year which saw 23,023 arrivals – a figure more than eight times higher than in 2019.
At its shortest, the sea crossing to the islands from the Moroccan coast is more than 100 kilometers (60 miles), but it is a notoriously dangerous route because of strong currents, while vessels are typically overcrowded and in poor condition.
Last year, 1,851 people died on route, according to the Caminando Fronteras organisation which monitors migrant flows.
Already this year, a total of 2,341 migrants landed on the Spanish islands in January and February, an increase of 112 percent on the same period in 2019, when the number stood at 1,103, interior ministry figures show.
The numbers surged over the past year after increased patrols along Spain’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings via the Mediterranean.
The influx has overwhelmed the islands, with thousands forced to live in makeshift encampments before being transferred to tourist accommodation or camps set up by the military.