At least five migrants died and another six are missing after their small boat capsized in rough seas in the Strait of Gibraltar on Sunday, according to Salvamento Marítimo, Spain’s maritime rescue agency.
The sole survivor of the tragedy told his Spanish rescuers that as many as 12 people were travelling on the boat, which ran into trouble shortly after leaving the Moroccan coastline.
“The survivor of the boat that capsized in the strait confirmed they began to lose occupants as soon as they set off on their voyage,” Salvamento Marítimo said on its Twitter feed.
Rescue crews had been searching the area using vessels and a helicopter since early morning Sunday after receiving reports from Morocco, but heavy seas and winds of up to 35 knots had complicated the operation.
The boat was finally spotted by the crew on a merchant vessel transiting the strait, who launched lifeboats and alerted the Spanish authorities.
The agency’s vessel Concepción Arenal arrived in Algeciras at 10pm last night carrying the sole survivor and the bodies of four of his companions.
The search was called off on Sunday night but resumed yesterday morning, with a fifth body recovered later on Monday.
During the search, Spanish rescue teams found at least two other migrant boats trying to cross the strait and brought 75 persons to safety.
These are the latest dramatic incidents in the Strait of Gibraltar, which has witnessed a surge in the number of migrants attempting to cross from Morocco to Spain.
Salvamento Marítimo said it coordinated search and rescue missions involving 1,211 migrant boats last year, rescuing a total of 18,937 persons, an increase of 182% over the figures for 2016.
The Spanish maritime rescue agency said 153 persons drowned or were lost at sea during the course of 2017.
Frontex, the European Border and Coastguard Agency, said the number of migrants detected on the Western Mediterranean route across the strait had hit a record high in 2017.
“While during much of the first half of the year the numbers were on a par with those reported during the last months of 2016, the flow reached new levels in June 2017,” said in a risk analysis published in February.
“In the latter part of the year, the observed increased usage of rubber dinghies east of the Strait of Gibraltar – used by sub-Saharan migrants – suggests increased activity of people smuggling networks, as the dinghies and the required engines are unlikely to have been procured by the – mostly sub-Saharan – migrants themselves.”
Main photo by David Parody