Six migrants die off Spain's Canary Islands, 67 rescued

Six migrants die off Spain's Canary Islands, 67 rescued
Rescuers were alerted on Wednesday afternoon to the fishing boat drifting some 800 kms south of Tenerife, before the six migrants were found dead.
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Migrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa often use the perilous Atlantic route to reach Europe [Getty/file photo]

Six migrants from a fishing boat drifting south of Spain's Canary Islands died and 67 others were rescued, Spanish authorities and a cruise ship operator said on Thursday.

Initially 68 survivors had been taken on board the cruise ship, the Insignia, but one of them died on board, said Spain's maritime safety and rescue authorities, Salvamento Maritimo.

That brought the number of deaths to six after five bodies were found on board the vessel.

"One of the survivors was in a critical condition and had to be evacuated, but in the end the doctor on board confirmed that he had died," Salvamento Maritimo said on X, formerly Twitter.

Rescuers were alerted on Wednesday afternoon to the fishing boat drifting in the Atlantic some 800 kilometres (500 miles) south of the island of Tenerife.

The cruise ship was sailing in the area and took on board 68 sub-Saharan African migrants, including three women and three minors, and recovered three bodies, Spain's maritime rescue service said in a statement.

"Bad weather" prevented it from collecting the other two bodies, the statement said.

The migrant boat was left adrift with a locating device to make it easier for rescuers to find it, the maritime service said.

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The 670-passenger capacity Insignia, owned by Miami-based Oceania Cruises, is currently on a 180-day trip around the world which began in January.

It is expected to reach Tenerife on Friday morning.

Gateway to Europe

An Oceania Cruises spokesperson said the migrants were brought "onboard for medical assistance and provided food, drinks, clothing and a safe place to rest".

"We have coordinated next steps with authorities in Tenerife, and they will be taking over the care of the rescued people," the spokesperson added in a statement.

Spain is one of the main gateways for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, with the vast majority making the perilous journey to the Canary Islands which lie off Africa's northwestern coast.

The Atlantic route is particularly dangerous due to strong currents, with migrants travelling in overloaded, often unseaworthy, boats without enough drinking water.

But it has grown in popularity due to increased vigilance in the Mediterranean.

At their closest point, the islands lie 100 kilometres off the coast of North Africa.

But many boats - often long wooden vessels known as pirogues - leave from much further away, setting sail from Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Gambia and Senegal.

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More than 5,000 migrants died while trying to reach Spain by sea in the first five months of this year, or the equivalent of 33 deaths per day, according to Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish charity.

That is the highest daily number of deaths since it began collating figures in 2007, and the vast majority were on the Atlantic route.