Migrant boat carrying 300 people missing off the Canary Islands

Three boats that departed Senegal are missing with aid groups saying no contact has been made since their departure

A group of 157 migrants arrive at Los Cristianos harbour in Tenerife, Canary Islands on July 4.  EPA
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At least 300 people travelling on three boats from Senegal heading for the Canary Islands are missing, a Spanish aid group said on Monday.

Helena Maleno Garzon, co-ordinator for Walking Borders (Caminando Fronteras) said two boats carrying around 100 people in total departed from Mbour on June 23 while a third left the southern town of Kafountine four days later with approximately 200 people on board.

“The most important thing is to find those people. There are many people missing in the sea, this isn’t normal, we need more planes to look for them,” she told the Associated Press.

There has been no contact with the boats since their departure, she added.

The Atlantic migration route is one of the deadliest in the world, with about 800 people dying or missing in the first half of this year, according to Walking Borders.

In recent years the Canary Islands has become one of the main destinations for people trying to reach Spain, with a peak of more than 23,000 migrants arriving in 2020, according to Spain’s interior ministry.

In the first six months of this year, more than 7,000 migrants and refugees reached the Canaries.

Boats that go missing often aren't documented. Some are never found or are discovered in different parts of the world, years later.

Earlier this year, an AP investigation found that in 2021 at least seven migrant boats from north-west Africa trying to reach the Canary Islands drifted to the Caribbean and Brazil.

The boats mainly travel from Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, with a few coming from Senegal, the Spanish aid group said. However, it added that since June this year, at least 19 boats from Senegal have arrived in the Canary Islands.

Many factors such as poor economies, lack of jobs, extremist violence, political unrest and the effects of climate change push migrants to risk their lives on overcrowded boats to reach the Canaries. Last month in Senegal, at least 23 people were killed during one of the country's deadliest clashes between opposition supporters and police.

The missing boats follow one of the deadliest migrant drownings last month, in which more than 500 people were presumed dead off the coast of Greece. Criticism has mounted over Europe's years-long failure to prevent such tragedies.

Maleno of the Spanish aid group said she has been in contact with the Moroccan, Spanish and Mauritanian marines and that more needs to be done to look for the missing boats.

“Imagine if there (were) 300 American people missing at sea. What (would) happen? Many planes will look for them,” she said.

Updated: July 10, 2023, 1:16 PM