Thirty-six migrants were feared dead after an inflatable boat en route to the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off northwestern Africa, sank on Wednesday, according to an aid group.
At least one body, belonging to a child, has been recovered, according to the aid group, Caminando Fronteras, a nongovernmental organization that tracks the deaths of migrants. The group said that 24 people had been rescued, but that dozens remained missing of the 61 people who had been on the vessel.
According to a Twitter post from Helena Maleno Garzón, who founded Caminando Fronteras, “The inflatable had been begging for rescue in Spanish waters for more than twelve hours.”
Maritime Rescue, Spain’s sea search-and-rescue agency, did not immediately respond to several requests for comment.
The agency did post information on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, apparently about the same episode, saying that two people aboard an inflatable boat had died off the coast of Morocco and that a Moroccan patrol boat had rescued 24.
The inflatable vessel en route to the Canary Islands sank just days after as many as 650 migrants drowned when an overloaded fishing boat capsized off Greece a week ago.
That disaster has brought renewed attention to the rising number of deaths of people trying to reach Europe from the Middle East and North Africa, and to European nations’ handling of the people and smugglers traversing the Mediterranean and Atlantic.
In the case near Greece, investigators are trying to learn what exactly happened with the boat — whether smugglers refused assistance and panic led to a capsize, as the Coast Guard claims, or whether a failed attempt to tow the ship caused it to sink, as some survivors contend.
In the case on Wednesday, rights groups and other observers were already asking questions about the Spanish and Moroccan responses. The Spanish newspaper El País reported that the boat had been spotted by a plane operated by the Spanish authorities on Tuesday evening, but that rescue operations by the Moroccan authorities only began at 6:20 a.m. on Wednesday, more than 10 hours later.
Migration routes linking West Africa to Spain, which cross both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, have become among the most perilous in recent years. In 2022 alone, Caminando Fronteras said it had confirmed the deaths of 2,390 people heading for Europe on those routes, including 1,784 victims on the route between Africa and the Canary Islands.
On Tuesday, the Spanish authorities said that a pregnant woman had died trying to reach the Canary Islands, after her body was found on a dinghy carrying about 50 migrants.
Up to mid-June, nearly 6,000 migrants had arrived on the Canary Islands in inflatable boats, according to Spanish government data.
International monitors have observed an increase in attempts to cross the Mediterranean, and in deaths. Last year, nearly 3,800 migrants died on routes within and from the Middle East and North Africa region, according to the International Organization for Migration — the highest death toll in five years.