(Adds IOM quote, comment from Mauritanian authorities, background)
NOUAKCHOTT, Dec 5 (Reuters) – At least 58 people drowned after a boat from Gambia carrying around 150 migrants sank off the coast of Mauritania on Wednesday, the Mauritanian interior ministry and U.N. migration agency said.
The vessel, which set out a week ago bound for Spain’s Canary Islands, began running out of fuel and sank off the coast near the Mauritanian city of Nouadhibou, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) quoted survivors as saying.
The perilous sea passage from West Africa to the Canary Islands was once a major route for migrants seeking jobs and a better life in Europe. The latest incident was one of the deadliest since attempts became scarcer when Spain stepped up patrols in the mid-2000s.
“At least 58 people are confirmed dead after a vessel carrying migrants sank as it approached the coast of Mauritania today. Eighty-three others swam to shore and are receiving assistance,” an IOM statement said.
Mauritania’s interior ministry confirmed the accident and said passengers on the vessel included young women.
Until this incident, 97 people were estimated to have died this year attempting the Atlantic migration route, according to IOM. But many deaths are not recorded, as it is difficult to track the number of vessels that do not reach their destination or the number of passengers on board.
At the peak of the route’s popularity in the mid-2000s, tens of thousands of migrants reached the Canary Islands or died trying. Last year, the Guinea-Bissau coast guard reported that 60 migrants had probably drowned when their ship sank off the coast, but their bodies were never recovered.
Although West Africa has some of the continent’s fastest-growing economies, the region is struggling to generate enough jobs for its mushrooming young population. As a result, migrants continue to tackle treacherous routes to get to Europe. (Reporting by Kissima Diagana with additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice in Dakar Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro Editing by Mark Heinrich)