Spanish authorities are in a race against time as they launch an intensive search operation in the waters off the Canary Islands to locate a missing boat carrying more than 200 African migrants. The vessel has been unaccounted for over a week and is believed to have set sail from Kafountine, a coastal town in southern Senegal, located approximately 1,700 km (1,057 miles) away from Tenerife, according to reports from the aid group Walking Borders. Among the passengers on board, it is suspected that many children are present.
Additionally, two other similar boats, each carrying dozens of people, have also gone missing. Spain's maritime rescue service has deployed an aircraft to support the ongoing search efforts.
The boat that departed from Kafountine on June 27th had the Canary Islands as its intended destination. While there is limited information available about the other two missing vessels, Helena Maleno from Walking Borders informed Reuters that one of them is carrying around 65 individuals, while the other is believed to have approximately 60 passengers. Consequently, the total number of missing individuals across all three boats exceeds 300.
This unfortunate news follows one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, where an overcrowded trawler capsized off the coast of Greece. While at least 78 deaths have been confirmed in that incident, the United Nations (UN) has reported that up to 500 individuals are still unaccounted for.
The journey from West Africa to the Canary Islands is notorious as one of the most perilous routes for migrants, mainly due to the use of simple dugout fishing boats that are highly susceptible to powerful Atlantic currents.
The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) reveals that in 2022 alone, at least 559 individuals lost their lives at sea while attempting to reach the Spanish islands. The death toll in 2021 reached 1,126.
Despite Spain's Interior Ministry reporting a 30% decrease in irregular arrivals to the Canary Islands, with 15,682 people recorded in 2022, the IOM emphasizes that the flow of migrants through this perilous route has remained alarmingly high since 2020 compared to previous years.