They wanted a new life in Europe. Instead, at least 58 people drowned Wednesday when an overcrowded and un-seaworthy boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania as it approached the shore seeking fuel and supplies.
The death toll, which included women and children, made it one of the deadliest disasters on the migration routes to Europe this year.
It could have been even worse. Some 83 others on the boat managed to swim to shore, where they were being given support and medical treatment by authorities in the northern Mauritanian city of Nouadhibou, the UN's migration agency said. Local authorities are continuing to search for others who may have been on board, amid reports the boat, which had been headed for Spain’s Canary Islands, was carrying at least 150 people.
Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the agency, told VICE News that the boat, which left The Gambia with its human cargo on Nov. 27, capsized as it approached the coast to refuel.
He blamed the disaster on the traffickers who had sent the desperate migrants to sea for a week in a poorly equipped vessel.
“It’s a horrible, murderous trade,” he said. “The smugglers aren’t exactly P&O Ferries are they? They don’t exactly have safety drills and life jackets.”
He said the survivors, who would now almost certainly be returned to their home countries, were in “the condition that people who emerge from deep trauma like this are always in.”
“They’re exhausted, frozen, terrified of what’s happened and fearful of what will come next. Because they didn’t reach their destination — and they probably borrowed a huge amount of money just to get this far.”
Mauritania’s Interior Minister Mohamed Salem ould Merzoug said his government was treating the survivors with “human solidarity, fraternity and African hospitality.” Ten people had been taken to hospital for urgent treatment, he said.
The nationalities of the deceased have not been released, but the ship departed from The Gambia, which in recent years has seen an exodus of people seeking better lives in Europe. Despite West African country’s small population of just 2 million, more than 35,000 of its citizens have arrived in Europe between 2014 and 2018, fleeing economic hardship.
Cover: Migrants disembark from the "Aquarius" ship of the NGO SOS Mediterranee - Doctors without borders on May 26, 2017 coming from Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Guinea, Liberia, Guinea Bisseau, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Benin, Burkina Faso and rescued in the Canal of Sicily the same day when 34 people died. (Photo by Ivan Romano / Pacific Press) (Sipa via AP Images)