At least 140 people have died after a boat carrying about 200 migrants capsized just hours after setting sail, the United Nations has revealed.
The vessel, which was bound for Spain’s Canary Islands, caught fire a few hours after departing the city of Mbour in Senegal, West Africa.
Nearby were the Senegalese and Spanish navies, as well as fishermen, who managed to rescue 59 of the roughly 200 people on board the boat which sank near St Louis, on Senegal’s north-west coast.
The remaining 140 migrants drowned in what the UN International Organisation for Migration has deemed the deadliest shipwreck reported so far in 2020.
It takes the total number of people who have died along this route since January to at least 414 – nearly double the 210 fatalities recorded in 2019.
In a statement on Friday morning (Australian time), the IOM said rescuers have retrieved the remains of 20 people.
The tragedy comes after four shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean and one in the English Channel last week.
Migrants from Africa wanting to escape to Europe frequently used to cross the western Mediterranean, which involved passing through Morocco.
They are now having to take a much more dangerous route through the Atlantic Ocean to the Canaries after the European Union pledged millions of dollars in 2019 to help Morocco crackdown on migrants.
Members of Senegal’s government and the IOM will travel to St Louis to assess the needs of the 59 survivors of Saturday’s shipwreck and provide them with psychosocial support, the statement said.
IOM Senegal Chief of Mission, Bakary Doumbia called for “unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth”.
“It is also important that we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life,” he said.
More than a quarter of the 14 boats that left Senegal for the Canary Islands in September, carrying a total of 663 migrants, experienced an incident or shipwreck, according to the IOM.
More than 11,000 migrants have arrived in the Canaries so far in 2020. In the same time frame in 2019, 2557 people reached the Spanish archipelago.
The IOM said: “This is still far below peaks seen in 2006 when over 32,000 people arrived.”