27 dead after migrant boat capsizes off West African coast

United Nations agencies say at least 27 people died after a boat carrying migrants capsized off West Africa between Mauritania and Western Sahara

DAKAR, Senegal -- At least 27 people died when a boat carrying migrants capsized off the West African coast between Mauritania and Western Sahara, United Nations agencies said Friday.

More than 40 were initially feared dead on Thursday, according to initial reports by the U.N. refugee agency.

“Despite COVID-19 mobility restrictions, migrants are still compelled to undertake risky journeys," said the Mauritania chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration, Laura Lungarotti.

The boat left Dakhla, Western Sahara a number of days ago and was heading for Spain’s Canary Islands, the U.N. agencies said. It had engine trouble and those on board were left stranded at sea, suffering from dehydration.

Most of the passengers were from sub-Saharan Africa.

Thousands died off Mauritania in attempts to reach the Canary Islands between 2005 and 2010 before migrants began to use other routes. Last year, however, authorities started detaining more boats off Mauritania carrying hundreds of migrants.

In December, 63 died when a migrant boat capsized. This year, others have been reported dead or missing on ships on the route.

“These deaths are preventable, and they are avoidable,” said the U.N. refugee agency special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel.

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Renata Brito in Barcelona contributed.