Two people dead on migrant boat off Spain’s Canary Islands

By Thomson Reuters Mar 12, 2024 | 4:35 AM

ARGUINEGUIN, Spain (Reuters) – Two people died as they attempted to reach Spain’s Canary Islands on a boat with 40 migrants on board, while four others were evacuated by helicopter to hospital in serious condition, the Spanish maritime rescue service said on Tuesday.

The pirogue – a type of dugout canoe – was sighted on Monday evening at around 8 p.m. (2000 GMT) a merchant vessel which alerted authorities on the island of Gran Canaria.

Rescue services deployed two helicopters to evacuate the injured and a ship to tow the pirogue to the Gran Canaria port of Arguineguin, 76 nautical miles (140 km) to the north, where they were met by Red Cross staff and police.

The 34 survivors comprised 27 men and seven women of sub-Saharan African origin, a spokesperson for the rescue service told Reuters, without giving details of where the boat had started its voyage.

The EU border agency Frontex says the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands is the busiest route for irregular migration from West Africa into the European Union.

The number of migrants boarding boats to attempt the crossing to the Canary Islands has risen more than six-fold so far this year from the same period of 2023, Spanish Interior Ministry data showed.

A total of 11,932 irregular migrants reached the Atlantic Ocean archipelago between Jan. 1 and Feb. 29, compared with the 1,865 who arrived in the same period in 2023, the ministry said.

Sea conditions around the Canary Islands have been challenging for navigation in the past week, with state weather agency AEMET issuing several alerts over ocean swells.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez and David Latona; Editing by Emma Pinedo and Ros Russell)