Teenager injured after Morocco navy fires on migrant boat

Teenager injured after Morocco navy fires on migrant boat
The Moroccan navy opened fire on a boat transporting migrants from the North African country, wounding one of them, a military source said on Wednesday.

3 min read
11 October, 2018
The migrants were attempting to cross into Europe [Getty]
A Moroccan migrant was wounded after the country’s navy opened fire on a boat transporting refugees, a military source said on Wednesday.

The 16-year-old was transferred to a hospital in Tangier, the military source confirmed, after suffering a gunshot wound to the shoulder in the overnight operation to intercept the vessel off the town of Larache, on Morocco's Atlantic coast.

Despite warning shots, "the motorboat that was carrying 58 migrants hidden under tarpaulin made a hostile move which forced the coastguard to fire at the captain," said the source in Rabat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The others aboard the boat, including men and women of various ages, were brought ashore and handed over to the security forces, the source said.

More than 43,000 migrants have made it to Spain since the start of the year, including around 38,000 by sea, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Last weekend alone, around 1,800 migrants trying to reach the European Union were rescued in the Mediterranean by the Moroccan navy and Spanish coastguard.

Since Tuesday, the Moroccan navy has rescued at least 452 migrants off the kingdom's Atlantic coast after they ran into trouble, the official MAP news agency reported, citing a military source.

That figure includes 86 Moroccans saved on Wednesday from a faltering vessel off the coast Moulay Bouselham, south of Tangier, according to the same source. 

Wednesday's shooting was the second of its kind in two weeks.

On September 25, a Moroccan naval patrol opened fire on a "go-fast" speedboat ferrying migrants to Spain, killing a 22-year-old student and wounding three other people.

The authorities said that shooting was also in response to the boat's "hostile manoeuvres" and said the migrants had been concealed under tarpaulin.

Last week, Moroccan authorities said they were probing the phenomenon of people smugglers using high power speedboats, as favoured by drug traffickers, to transport migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Khalid Zerouali, head of immigration and border surveillance at the interior ministry, told AFP that authorities were investigating an "emerging phenomenon" that has seen smugglers switch from inflatable dinghies.

"These powerful motor boats were until now used for trafficking of drugs in the Mediterranean," Zerouali said.

Zerouali said that footage posted on social media appeared to show traffickers offering to take people to Europe for free.

He said the smugglers could be seeking to lure victims onto the boats to take them hostage or that drug-runners might need the passengers to add weight and stabilise their vessels.

A growing number of Moroccans are trying to leave their country illegally to reach Europe by sea or by crossing the fortified barriers between Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa.

The kingdom is also a transit country for thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

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