Spies lift lid on trade in illegal immigrants

2nd December 2004, Comments 0 comments

2 December 2004, MADRID- Spain has confirmed press reports that their intelligence agents in Sierra Leone were watching a ship suspected of being used to smuggle illegal immigrants to Europe, and expressed annoyance that the information had been made public.

2 December 2004

MADRID- Spain has confirmed press reports that their intelligence agents in Sierra Leone were watching a ship suspected of being used to smuggle illegal immigrants to Europe, and expressed annoyance that the information had been made public.

The reports said that for three weeks Spanish spies had been keeping tabs on the unnamed ship anchored at Freetown on suspicion that the crew were planning to take between 500 and 1,000 people to Spain's Canary Islands.

Confirming the reports, the Spanish interior ministry condemned the publication of "confidential information that could endanger an operation", adding that there was as yet no indication that the ship was due to depart or that it was carrying illegal immigrants.

The Spanish daily El Pais said that the Spanish foreign ministry had asked a number of West African countries, including Cape Verde, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Senegal as well as Sierra Leone, to be on the lookout for people being picked up off their coasts by the vessel concerned.

In August the Canary Islands governor, Jose Segura, said a ship was intercepted as it was about to leave the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown with 500 clandestine immigrants for the Spanish archipelago lying off northwest Africa, and the vessel's captain and crew detained.

The interception of the ship, the Hollgan Star, was the result of a
two-month investigation by security officials in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Spain, Segura said, hinting that further smuggling attempts were being planned.

"Several old ships that are being repaired for use to smuggle migrants have been detected in different parts of western Africa," he added.

The would-be illegal immigrants pay people-traffickers between  EUR 1,200-2,025 each for the voyage, he said.

On 15 October another ship, the MV Polar carrying 176 people, was boarded off the Canaries, seen as a back door to the European Union.

The use of larger cargo ships coming from the Gulf of Guinea is news, Segura said.

In the past smugglers have mainly used smaller vessels and
operated off the coast of Morocco, much closer to Spain.

Segura speculated that migrant traffickers had adopted this new strategy after enhanced cooperation between Spain and Morocco in cracking down on immigrant smuggling.

Segura said organised groups "spot an old, abandoned ship, they
offer to buy or rent it from the owner, and then do inexpensive repairs."

More than 11,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended in Spanish waters around the Canaries and in the Straits of Gibraltar between January and the end of September, according to official figures.

There is no official estimate of how many have arrived in Spain without being detected and many immigrants die at sea -- often by drowning – before reaching coveted Europe and better opportunities than at home.
  
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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