Over 50 immigrants die trying to reach Canary Islands

7th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

7 November 2007, MADRID - A boat located off the Canary Islands with 55 illegal immigrants aboard was towed into Tenerife port Tuesday, while Mauritania announced that at least 47 sub-Saharan migrants who were trying to reach the Spanish islands have died after drifting at sea for 19 days.

7 November 2007

MADRID - A boat located off the Canary Islands with 55 illegal immigrants aboard was towed into Tenerife port Tuesday, while Mauritania announced that at least 47 sub-Saharan migrants who were trying to reach the Spanish islands have died after drifting at sea for 19 days.

Another 96 people were rescued alive from the second boat, which capsized off the coast of Morocco, between Mauritania and Western Sahara, authorities in Nouadibou said.

The survivors, who hail mostly from Senegal but also from Gambia, Mali and other countries, told rescuers that their boat companions died of thirst, hunger and cold, and that they were thrown overboard some time before the vessel capsized near La Agüera.

The boat departed on October 16 from Senegal, a starting point for thousands of migrants seeking to reach Spain and Europe illegally. Somewhere along the journey the engine began to malfunction, and the food and water supplies ran out.

Four of the migrants remain in hospital, while the rest have been taken to a detention center, where they await repatriation.

Meanwhile, the migrants in the vessel that was towed into Tenerife were all reported to be in good health, including three minors who traveled with the group.

Earlier Tuesday morning another boat with 61 illegal migrants aboard arrived at El Hierro, raising the total of immigrant arrivals in the last 24 hours to 161.

A common element of the mass tragedy occurring in Atlantic waters as African migrants bid to reach European shores in Spain's Canary Islands is that the occupants of the crammed boats run short of water during the voyage. Even if the boat should make it into Spanish waters, many die through dehydration, not to mention undernourishment and hypothermia.

But last week a cruel instance of excess water emerged when the International Migration Organization (IMO) said it will be asking Mauritanian authorities to help find those who sold the captain of a fishing boat carrying more than 56 migrants headed for the Canary Islands water instead of gasoline.

Abibatou Wane, a Senegalese IMO official, said at a conference on Friday in the Canary Islands, that his organization would investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of 56 people aboard a fishing boat that was found drifting with just one survivor by a Spanish trawler on October 15.

Leidi Fall, who had captained the boat, was taken to the Senegalese capital of Dakar where he was treated for exhaustion and dehydration. He told the authorities there that after the first can of fuel ran out, around 100 miles from the Canary Islands, it was discovered that the second contained only water.

Wane said that the IMO would "only ask" if the Mauritanian authorities knew anything about the matter. He refused to comment on claims by Senegalese migrants who have managed to make it to the Canaries that Mauritanian navy vessels had intercepted them at sea and stole their water, food, and money.

"They tricked us: they gave us water instead of gasoline," said Leidi Fall last week from his hospital bed. After his boat ran out of fuel, it drifted for 21 days. He said he and others who remained alive longer threw the dead overboard, but by the time his boast was discovered, he was so weak that he had been unable to dispose of seven corpses, which were still aboard.

Fall, aged 29, said that there were 20 Malians aboard, along with 28 Guineans, three Senegalese, and four others whose nationality he did not know aboard the boat. They set off from the port of Nouadhibou in Mauritania, where he worked as a fisherman with his brother.

"The owner of the boat chose me as skipper because I had already made the trip once," he said, referring to a failed attempt to reach the Canaries last year. "In exchange for steering the boat, he paid me €200 and allowed me to sell two places," said Fall.

On October 3, seated aboard several sacks of rice, 100 liters of drinking water, and what they thought were 200 liters of gasoline, Fall and the 56 others set off. "On the fourth day of the trip the first can of gasoline ran out. That was when we realized that we had been tricked," he recalled. "People began to shout, others prayed, and a few just cried like children," he added. "I thought that somebody would rescue us because the GPS showed that we were just 150 kilometers from the Canaries."

He said that when the food began to run out, fights broke out on board. "Some people threw others overboard while they were asleep, and nobody tried to save them." He added that another 10 people committed suicide by throwing themselves overboard, while others just drifted off into unconsciousness. Fall says he threw dozens of bodies into the ocean. "We would say a short prayer for the dead."

When a Spanish trawler found the vessel, there were seven bloated and sunburned corpses aboard, and Fall. "I couldn't move any longer. I was so tired that I just prayed to God to send me somebody," said Fall. "Then I heard the sound of a motor and tried to wave. A little while after, the Spanish boat came alongside."

The rescue took place south of the Cape Verde islands 18 days after the fuel ran out. Ocean currents had carried the boat more than 2,000 kilometers south of the Canaries, and more than 1,000 kilometers from the beach at Nouadhibou, where the fateful journey had started. The captain of the Spanish trawler, José María Abreu, described the situation as "hellish."

The Senegalese police have begun an investigation into whether Fall shares any responsibility for the death of the 56 people aboard the vessel he was captaining. He was being held at the hospital awaiting questioning.

Meanwhile, Fall's relatives in Mauritania seem more disappointed that he had failed for a second time to make it to Spain rather than happy he had survived the ordeal. "He's my nephew, and so I will take care of him, but after all he has been through trying to get to the Canaries, the Spanish authorities ought to take care of him," said an uncle, while his mother was anxious to know what had happened to the €200 he had been paid to undertake the trip. "Have the Spanish crew kept it?" she asked.


Subject: Spanish news



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