40 African migrants feared dead on boat to Europe

By Diadie Ba
Tuesday, December 11, 2007; 8:17 AM

DAKAR (Reuters) - Around 40 West African migrants were feared dead, many from hunger and thirst, after their boat spent 12 days at sea in a failed bid to reach the Canary Islands, police said on Tuesday.

The fishing boat set off from the southern Senegalese region of Casamance and ran aground in the outskirts of the capital Dakar on Saturday after its captain turned back to save the remaining passengers.

"The survivors said there were around 40 dead and they threw their bodies overboard," police spokesman Colonel Alioune Ndiaye said.

Many of the victims died of hunger and thirst after they ran out of food and water, Ndiaye said.

"Among the dead were 10 Ghanaians who couldn't stand it any longer after 12 days at sea and threw themselves into the water."

Most of the 90 people on the boat when it arrived in the coastal town of Yoff ran away to avoid detention.

Police have been cooperating with European officials to curb people-trafficking after a wave of migrants swamped Spain's Canary Islands last year.

Thousands of West Africans have died in attempts to escape one of the world's poorest regions and build a better life in Europe.

Scores of wooden fishing vessels attempt the perilous crossing to the Canary Islands each year, most of them laden with young men fleeing rampant unemployment or driven by social pressure to provide for their families.

People traffickers often charge thousands of dollars per migrant and fail to equip the boats with navigation devices, reliable motors or enough fuel.

More than 30,000 illegal migrants landed on the Canary Islands last year -- six times more than in 2005.

The EU's border agency Frontex said this year that its sea patrols had cut the number of migrants arriving at the islands by nearly 70 percent in 2007.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday measures by European governments to curb irregular migration and combat people-trafficking could prevent refugees from gaining access to EU territory.

UNHCR urged Slovenia, which will take over the EU presidency next month, to ensure that interception missions at sea and on land did not jeopardize asylum rights.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Thomson; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

Full Legal Notice
© 2007 Reuters