Friday, October 26, 2007

African migrant boat in disaster

The bodies of at least seven Africans have been found in a boat off the Canary Islands, Spanish officials say.

African illegal immigrants arriving in Tenerife Some 35,000 migrants sailed to the Canaries last year

A sole survivor was found in the open-topped boat, but the Spanish interior ministry said up to 50 other people were missing.

The survivor told Spanish fishermen the boat had left from Cape Verde.

Thousands of Africans try every year to reach Spanish territory on the Canary Islands illegally, many drowning during the journey.

According to the survivor, who was found in a "very weak state", the boat had left Cape Verde with more than 50 people on board, and was found 300 miles (480km) off the coast of Senegal by Spanish fishermen, a spokeswoman from Spain's interior ministry said.

Located off the coast of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands are a prime target for illegal African immigrants fleeing poverty in their countries.

But numbers were cut down sharply this year, to 13,000, from 35,000 in 2006, Spain's Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said on Thursday.

He attributed the fall in numbers to a new European surveillance system with aircraft and ships posted off the coast of Africa.

Mr Rubalcaba said the system was discouraging Africans from the perilous journey, which claims many lives every year.

BBC NEWS | World | Africa | African migrant boat in disaster