Spain rescues 319 migrants at sea, 18 more feared drowned

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Emergency services on Spain’s Canary Islands said that 319 people, including 59 women and 24 children, were rescued from seven different boats trying to reach the archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, while a campaign group is claiming that at least 18 migrants have died.

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Spanish rescue vessels reached the boats in different locations late on Tuesday and in the early hours of Wednesday, a Maritime Rescue Service spokeswoman told The Associated Press, adding that rescuers didn't find any bodies on or near the boats.

Walking Borders, a non-governmental organization working with migrants in the region and which is often contacted by people in distress or their relatives, said that at least 18 people traveling on one of the boats had died.

“Rescue means were activated too late despite having the boat's location,” Helena Maleno, the NGO's founder, wrote in a tweet.

The maritime rescue service spokeswoman, who was not authorized to be named in media reports, said that during one of the operations late on Tuesday rescuers found nine people clinging to a capsized boat near the island of Lanzarote, but that no bodies or people adrift were found. She said that the rescue boat had to tend another distress call immediately after.

The archipelago's emergency service, 112, said that nine adults and one baby among the 319 survivors were transferred to local health facilities on Lanzarote and Gran Canaria, another island.

Most of the rescued were believed to be from both northern and central Africa, which at the closest point is some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the Spanish islands. Migrant rescues, boat arrivals and tragedies involving drowning or dehydration at sea are almost constant on this route favored by many Africans fleeing violence or poverty.

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