At least four migrants went missing and a fifth died shortly after being rescued during an operation off Spain’s Canary Islands, Spain’s coastguard said Wednesday.
The incident happened Tuesday when a merchant ship came to the aid of a boat carrying 34 migrants some 350 miles (550 kilometers) south of the Atlantic archipelago off the coast of Morocco.
Due to the rough weather and the exhaustion of the migrants, four of them “fell into the water and it was not possible to rescue them,” said a spokesman for Spain’s coast guard.
A Spanish army helicopter was deployed on Wednesday to evacuate four of those rescued who were in critical condition, but one of them, a woman, died before she could be airlifted for treatment.
Migrant arrivals on the Atlantic archipelago have surged since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings to the continent via the Mediterranean.
At its shortest, the sea crossing from the Moroccan coast is around 100 kilometers, but the strong currents there make it very dangerous. The vessels used are often overcrowded and in poor condition, adding to the risks.
Last year 23,023 migrants reached the Canary Islands, eight times more than in 2019, interior ministry figures show.
During the first seven months of this year, 7,531 migrants reached the Canaries, more than twice as much over the same period in 2020.
Last year, the International Organization for Migration said 850 people had died while trying to reach the archipelago.
Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that monitors migrant flows, said the figure was at least 1,851.