At least 58 migrants trying reach Europe from West Africa died as their makeshift boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania, but dozens of survivors managed to swim to shore.
Wednesday’s sinking was the largest known loss of life along the West Africa smuggling route this year, and the sixth deadliest migrant drowning globally, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
The migrants “were mostly clandestine immigrants trying to reach Spain, coming from Banjul in Gambia,” Mauritania’s interior ministry said in a statement released Wednesday night.
“At least 58 people are confirmed dead after a vessel carrying migrants sank as it approached the coast of Mauritania,” the IOM said in a statement.
“Eighty-three others swam to shore and are receiving assistance.”
“The craft hit a rock in the middle of the sea, it started taking on water and the engine fell apart,” the official said. “They weren’t far from the shore, but a large swell stopped them from reaching the coast by boat.”
The official said there was nothing aboard and the migrants were hungry and cold so they jumped into the sea and started swimming.
Survivors of Wednesday’s sinking in Mauritania told the IOM there were at least 150 people aboard when the craft went down, including women and children.
The IOM said survivors had been trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands and that the boat left The Gambia on November 27.
Attempts to reach the Canary Islands from West African countries -- known as the Western route -- have increased in recent years as authorities have clamped down on crossings to Europe from Libya.
Some 158 people are known to have died trying to reach the Canary Islands in total so far this year, according to the IOM, up from 43 last year.