Dozens still missing in boat wreck off Moroccan coast

21st September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The would-be illegal immigrants were on an inflatable dinghy before it sank off Perejil, a rocky Spanish-owned islet in the Mediterranean Sea off the Moroccan coast.

Tangiers – Rescuers scoured the sea off the coast of Morocco Sunday for dozens of African migrants who are missing and feared dead after their boat capsized in an accident that killed eight others.

A total of 42 would-be illegal immigrants were crammed onto the inflatable dinghy that sank before dawn on Saturday off Perejil, a rocky Spanish-owned islet in the Mediterranean Sea off the Moroccan coast, according to a source close to the Moroccan rescue service.

The Spanish Red Cross however estimated there were 60 migrants on the boat, which was headed for Spain.

Spanish and Moroccan rescue teams on Saturday recovered the bodies of eight of them, including that of a pregnant woman, Moroccan security sources said.

They said seven of the 11 survivors appeared before prosecutors in Tangiers on Sunday, while the four others, who were found in poor condition, were receiving treatment in hospital.

The Moroccan navy, Spain's maritime rescue service and elements of its Civil Guard police force and Red Cross were all taking part in the operation to find more survivors.

The teams expanded the search zone Sunday afternoon to an area closer to the Spanish coast, fearing the bodies may have drifted in strong currents in the Strait of Gibraltar, the security sources said.

The rescuers suspended the operation for the night Sunday with no signs of any more survivors.

"The search has been unsuccessful today. They have not found any more survivors or bodies," said a spokeswoman for the government in Spain's tiny north African enclave of Ceuta.

A spokeswoman for Spain's maritime rescue services said it was unlikely any more survivors would be found as "most of the immigrants don't know how to swim."

Spanish police on Saturday handed over the eight bodies and 11 survivors -- seven men and four women -- to Moroccan authorities who took them by boat to Tangiers, the sources said, adding that all were believed to be Nigerians or Senegalese nationals.

Moroccan police said the boat had set off for Spain from near the Moroccan village of Benyounech, which is surrounded by dense forest and overlooks Perejil.

Moroccan investigators are speculating that the accident was either the result of a collision with another boat which then fled the area or that the dinghy capsized in strong winds.

Moroccan police were also searching the forest around Benyounech Sunday for more would-be illegal immigrants they suspect are hiding there before embarking on risky journeys by boat for Spain.

Dozens of boats carrying migrants from Africa hoping to begin new lives in Europe arrive on Spain's shores each year, most of them in the Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.

Authorities fear many of the thousands of Africans who attempt the perilous journey by boat to Spanish soil die each year of thirst, hunger or exposure, although there is no way of knowing the exact numbers.

In March 2006, a Spanish ship picked up the bodies of 25 African migrants south of the Canary Islands.

Spain in recent years has established repatriation agreements with African countries that are a major source for migration, and boosted maritime surveillance in cooperation with other European nations.

During the first eight months of the year only 1,640 migrants reached the Canaries, a drop of almost 70 percent on last year.

In March more than 220 people were dead or missing after a Europe-bound vessel from Libya sank. There have also been several fatal accidents involving migrants in recent years in the Gulf of Aden off east Africa.

AFP / Expatica

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