At least 140 dead in migrant boat sinking off Senegal last week

International Organisation for Migration issues vastly higher toll from tragedy last weekend

Over 1300 migrants rescued from different boats remain in the port of Arguineguin while being cared for by the Spanish Red Cross and the National Police on the Spanish Canary island of Gran Canaria on October 25, 2020. African migrants have recently turned to the Canary Islands after agreements with Turkey, Morocco and Libya tightened control over the Mediterranean route to Europe's shores. / AFP / DESIREE MARTIN

More than 140 people died last week when a vessel carrying around 200 migrants sank off Senegal, in the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020 so far, the International Office for Migration said on Thursday.

Senegalese authorities had previously given a toll of at least 10 dead, with 60 people rescued.

"Local communities have told us that there were around 200 people on board, which means that 140" died at least, an IOM spokeswoman in Dakar, Aissatou Sy, said.

The agency said it was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy, which followed four sinkings in the central Mediterranean last week, and another in the English Channel.

"We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth," Bakary Doumbia, IOM's chief in Senegal, said in the statement.

On Monday, the Senegalese government sounded the alarm about a "resurgence" of migrants trying to reach Europe via a perilous route in the eastern Atlantic – the crossing to Spain's Canary Islands.

The archipelago lies more than 100 kilometres from the coast of Africa at its closest point, and the passage is typically made in traditional wooden boats that are usually crammed and poorly maintained.

In the latest case, the vessel left Mbour, a coastal town in western Senegal, on Saturday before a fire broke out on board a few hours later, the IOM said.

It capsized near the coastal town of Saint-Louis, on the country's north-western coast, the agency said. The Senegalese government said the fire had begun among fuel drums.

The Atlantic route has been used more and more as the authorities have clamped down on the other main migration route in West Africa, which goes up by road through the Sahara in Niger and Libya to the Mediterranean coast.

At least 414 people have died on the Atlantic route in 2020, according to the IOM's Missing Migrants Project, which recorded 210 fatalities there in all of 2019.

Around 11,000 migrants have arrived on the Canary Islands this year, compared to 2,557 during the same period in 2019, although the total remains far below the peak of 2006 when there were more than 32,000 arrivals, the IOM said.