RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Forty-five immigrants, including pregnant women, died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Spain, a Spanish rights activist said Thursday, quoting survivors. Morocco reported that at least 21 other immigrants were rescued at sea.
Helena Maleno, who runs the Tangiers-based group Walking Borders, said she based her figure on accounts from seven female survivors of the smuggling boat that floundered and took on water Wednesday.
“Survivors told me they had about 13 women on board. Many were pregnant,” Maleno said by telephone. “There was also one young girl, between 12 and 14 years old, who didn’t survive.”
The information was not immediately confirmed by Morocco. A Moroccan official said the Royal Marines rescued at least 21 people on Thursday, a day after their rubber dinghy floundered. One body was recovered, he said, but he was unaware of the number of dead.
The official, who had information about the sinking, was not authorized to discuss it. He said the immigrants, all sub-Saharans, were in a critical state when pulled from the water north of Nador.
Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service said it offered Moroccan authorities logistical help for the search and rescue operation on Wednesday and Thursday.
Maleno said she was contacted Wednesday morning by a family member but was able to make contact with the small boat hours later, at 3:45 p.m. that day. The immigrants told her they were having trouble keeping their boat afloat. Just over two hours later she said the immigrants told her by phone: “We are sinking; the Zodiac is full of water.” Then she heard screams.
Spain’s maritime rescue said a plane from the European border and coast guard agency and the Algerian coast guard also joined in the search. It did not explain why they did not reach the boat in time.
Spain became the leading immigrant entry route into Europe last year with more than 57,000 unauthorized arrivals, according to the European Union. Morocco is the main departure point.
Around 2,300 people died crossing the Mediterranean Sea last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.