Spain arrests ‘boat captain’ over Canaries migrant tragedy


                Madrid, Aug 19 (AFP/APP):Spanish police said Thursday they had arrested a Moroccan man over the deaths of 14 migrants who perished while trying to make the crossing from Morocco to the Canary Islands.

                  The 43-year-old is suspected of being one of two men who captained the boat, which spent two weeks adrift before it was rescued by a merchant ship earlier this month, police said in a statement.

                  Of the 47 passengers on board the boat, 10 died during the attempted crossing and four fell into the sea and drowned during the rescue operation, which took place in rough weather, it added.

                  Police said the migrant boat ran out of fuel, as well as water and food, just three days after it departed from Morocco at the end of July for Spain’s Canary Islands.

                  “The majority of migrants started to drink seawater. Over the following days, people began to die on board, and their bodies were thrown into the water,” the statement said.

                  Police investigations determined that one of the suspected captains of the boat died during the attempted crossing, while the other was at a migrant reception centre in the Canaries with the rest of the surviving passengers where he was arrested.

                  The man faces charges of human trafficking and involuntary manslaughter.

                  Migrant arrivals on the Atlantic archipelago have surged since late 2019 when increased patrols in the Mediterranean dramatically reduced crossings there.

                  At its shortest, the sea crossing from the Moroccan coast is around 100 kilometres (65 miles), but strong currents make it very dangerous.

                  The vessels used are often overcrowded and in poor condition, adding to the risks.

                  Last year 23,023 migrants reached the Canary Islands, eight times more than in 2019, interior ministry figures show.

                  During the first seven months of this year, 7,531 migrants reached the Canaries, more than twice as many as the same period in 2020.

                  Last year, the International Organization for Migration said 850 people had died while trying to reach the archipelago. But Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that monitors migrant flows, said the figure was at least 1,851.