At least 63 people are believed to have died after a boat from Senegal was found floating off the coast of Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean, authorities and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday.
At least 38 people, including four children aged 12 to 16, have been rescued from the fishing boat that left Senegal in July, IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli told AFP news agency. Senegal’s foreign ministry said late on Tuesday that 37 rescued were Senegalese and one person was from Guinea-Bissau. Most of those on board the boat are believed to be from Senegal.
It is unclear what had happened to the vessel as little information was available.
Emergency services recovered the remains of seven people, IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli told the AFP news agency, while another 56 people are believed missing.
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“Generally, when people are reported missing following a shipwreck, they are presumed dead,” she said.
The vessel was spotted on Monday almost 320km (200 miles) from the island of Sal by a Spanish fishing boat, which alerted Cape Verde authorities, police said.
“We must open our arms and welcome the living and bury the dead with dignity,” said Cape Verdean Health Minister Filomena Goncalves, as quoted by the Inforpress news agency.
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 with more than 100 refugees and migrants on board.
Families in Fass Boye, a seaside town 145km (90 miles) north of the capital, Dakar, had contacted Walking Borders on July 20 after 10 days without hearing from loved ones on the boat, group founder Helena Maleno Garzón told the Associated Press news agency.
Cheikh Awa Boye, president of the local fishermen’s association, said two of his nephews were missing. “They wanted to go to Spain,” Boye said.
Jose Rui Moreira, a health official in Sal, said seven survivors needed to be taken to hospital, the AFP news agency reported.
Cape Verde, an island nation about 620km (385 miles) off the West African coast, lies on the maritime migration route to the Spanish Canary Islands – a gateway to the European Union.
Thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing poverty and war risk their lives to make the dangerous journey each year.
They often travel in modest boats or motorised canoes supplied by smugglers, who charge a fee for the journey.
In January, rescue teams in Cape Verde saved about 90 refugees and migrants adrift in a canoe, while two others on board died.
They were from Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone.