DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A weekend migrant shipwreck off Senegal has left at least 140 people dead, making it the deadliest so far this year, the International Organization for Migration confirmed Thursday.
About 200 passengers set off in the vessel from the Senegalese town of Mbour on Saturday, heading for Spain's Canary Islands, but the boat soon caught fire and sank off Senegal's northwestern coast near Saint Louis. Fifty-nine passengers were saved, IOM said.
The deadliest shipwreck comes as the number of boats trying to reach the Canary Islands from Senegal's shores has “significantly increased in recent weeks," the U.N. migration agency said.
Last month, 14 boats attempted the voyage, and about one-quarter “were reported to have experienced an incident or shipwreck,” IOM said.
Senegal's shores were once a major departure point for those hoping to migrate to Europe. However, in recent years it had become more common for Senegalese to travel over land to Tunisia or Libya before attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
Those traveling by sea have been refused visas for European countries but take the risk of a perilous voyage for the chance to earn enough money to support their families back home.
“We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth,” said Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal Chief of Mission.