DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — More than 60 migrants are feared dead after a Spanish fishing vessel rescued a boat off the Atlantic archipelago of Cape Verde that originally had more than 100 people aboard, authorities and migrant advocates said Thursday.
Seven bodies were found on the boat and an estimated 56 people are missing at sea and presumed dead, said International Organization for Migration spokesperson Safa Msehli. According to Senegal’s foreign affairs ministry, 38 people were rescued earlier in the week near Cape Verde, about 620 kilometers (385 miles) off the coast of West Africa.
The Spanish migration advocacy group Walking Borders said the vessel was a large fishing boat, called a pirogue, which had left Senegal on July 10.
Families in Fass Boye, a seaside town 145 kilometers (90 miles) north of the capital, Dakar, reached out to Walking Borders on July 20, after 10 days without hearing from loved ones on the boat, group founder Helena Maleno Garzón said.
Cheikh Awa Boye, president of the local fishing association, said survivors called home from Cape Verde after the rescue. Boye said two of his nephews are among those missing.
Mamour Ba, a 30-year-old student from Fass Boye, lost his younger brother Mame Cheik on the pirogue. His brother, a fisherman and a father of one, was 23 when he died trying to reach Spain with two other brothers and a nephew, who survived.
Mamour said they were still in shock when they relayed the news on Tuesday from a borrowed phone in Cape Verde.
“They had to leave for Spain to feed their families,” explained Mamour, who has himself tried and failed twice to reach Europe. Mame Cheik’s son still does not know what happened.
“Each time we were together he asked (for him), ‘father, father, father.’ He doesn’t know, he’s just a kid,” Mamour said.
Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service confirmed that a Spanish fishing boat named the Zillarri rescued 38 people and recovered seven bodies from a Senegalese pirogue on Aug. 14 after spotting it adrift northeast of Cape Verde.
An official of the tropical tuna fishing company PEVASA, which operates the Zillarri, said the survivors were asking for help and were in a “bad state.”
The route from West Africa to Spain is one of the world’s most dangerous, yet the number of migrants leaving from Senegal on rickety wooden boats has surged over the past year. The boats try to reach Spain’s Canary Islands, an archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa that has been used as a steppingstone to continental Europe.
Nearly 1,000 migrants died while trying to reach Spain by sea in the first six months of 2023, Walking Borders says. Worsening youth unemployment, political unrest, violence by armed groups and climate change push migrants across West Africa to risk their lives on overcrowded boats.
Nearly 10,000 people have reached the Canary Islands by sea from the northwest coast of Africa so far this year, according to Spanish Interior Ministry figures.
On Aug. 7, the Moroccan navy recovered the bodies of five Senegalese migrants and rescued 189 others after their boat capsized off the coast of Western Sahara.
In 2021, an AP investigation found at least seven migrant boats from northwest Africa had become lost in the Atlantic and were found drifting across the Caribbean and even off Brazil, carrying only lifeless bodies.
This story corrects the spelling of the fishing company’s name to PEVASA.
Associated Press writers Babacar Dione, Renata Brito, Sam Mednick and Barry Hatton contributed to this report.