At least 140 migrants drown off coast of Senegal

Civil guards (Guardia Civil) pull the corpse of a would-be immigrant out of the water near the site of a shipwreck on the Teguise coast, on the Spanish canary island of Lanzarote, on February 16, 2009. Hopes faded today that any survivors would be found from a boat carrying 28 mostly North African migrants that capsized off Spain's Canary Islands, police said. Four people, including an eight-year-old girl, are known to have drowned when the vessel overturned on February 15 just offshore from Arrecife, the main city on Lanzarote island. AFP PHOTO/DESIREE MARTIN (Photo credit should read DESIREE MARTIN/AFP via Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: Civil guards pull a would-be immigrant out of the water near the site of a shipwreck on the Teguise coast, on the Spanish canary island of Lanzarote. (Photo credit DESIREE MARTIN/AFP via Getty Images)

At least 140 migrants died after a boat they were travelling in capsized off the coast of Senegal, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) said on Thursday.

A statement by the IOM said the boat, which was destined for the Canary Islands and had been carrying about 200 migrants, caught fire shortly after departure from the coastal town of Mbour and capsized near Saint-Louis, on Senegal’s northwest coast.

59 people were rescued and 20 bodies were retrieved, the IOM added, describing Saturday’s incident as the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year.

“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply saddened by this recent tragedy, which follows four shipwrecks recorded in the Central Mediterranean last week and another in the English Channel,” the statement said.

Officials from the Senegalese government and the IOM are due to travel to Saint-Louis to assess the needs of survivors and provide immediate psychosocial assistance.

IOM at the same time raised an alarm over a significant increase in the number of departures from West Africa to the Canary Islands in recent weeks. There have been about 11,000 arrivals to the Canary Islands in 2020 compared to 2,557 arrivals during the same period in 2019.

“IOM Senegal has been monitoring departures from the coast with the assistance of members of the community since the beginning of September. In September alone, 14 boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the Canary Islands. Of these departures, 26 per cent were reported to have experienced an incident or shipwreck.”

IOM’s Senegal Chief of Mission Bakary Doumbia called on governments, partners and the international community to unite to break up trafficking and smuggling networks.

“It is also important that we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life,” he said.

At least 414 people are reported to have died along this route so far in 2020, the IOM said, compared to 210 in the whole of 2019.