At least three people have died and two others, including a six-year-old girl, are missing after a boat carrying migrants and refugees ran aground on the rocky coast of Lanzarote in Spain’s Canary Islands, local authorities have said.
The boat was approaching the shore of Órzola village on Thursday night when it flipped a few metres from land, throwing the passengers into the water.
Emergency workers recovered the three bodies – two men and a woman – and rescued 41 people, among them 19 women and seven children of sub-Saharan nationalities.
Rescue workers with a helicopter were searching the coast around Lanzarote’s northern region of Muelle de Orzola for the two missing on Friday morning.
Resident Marcos Lemes, who was first on the scene and alerted emergency services, told Reuters he had begun pulling people out of the water after giving his phone to a boy to use as a torch.
“I ran out of the house with two buoys that I keep at home and when I got there it was madness … I saw a huge number of people on the reef.”
A dozen of the rescued group, including two babies and two young children, were transferred to hospital, the regional emergency services said.
The developments came as two other boats carrying a total of 110 people reached the other Canary islands of Fuerteventura and El Hierro on Friday, according to the regional emergency services.
So far this year more than 5,700 people have made the perilous crossing from Africa to the Spanish archipelago, at least twice as many as in the same period last year, which itself saw an eightfold increase from 2019.
Restrictions on air travel and border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have partly contributed to the increased traffic, which comes despite tougher controls to prevent Mediterranean sea crossings to Europe.
A record 850 people died while attempting the Atlantic voyage last year, according to the United Nations migration agency, which suggested COVID-19 had prompted many workers in struggling industries such as fishing or agriculture to risk the journey.
So far this year, at least 130 people who attempted the crossing have died or are missing, according to the UN migration agency’s Missing Migrants Project. Only 58 bodies have been recovered.
The actual toll is widely understood to be higher, as not all reports can be confirmed.
Meanwhile, with arrival facilities on the Canaries packed to capacity, authorities have housed thousands in camps criticised by rights groups for their conditions.