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Migrants drown in boat disaster

A RICKETY boat carrying illegal migrants from Morocco capsized in rough seas just off Spain's Canary Islands and 19 were drowned, an official and witnesses said yesterday. At least three were still missing.

The boat overturned on Sunday evening very close to Lanzarote's shores. Several island residents dived into the water and managed to save six of the migrants with the help of others in small boats.

"When we got there we could see those that were alive and the rest were just floating," Anibal Betancort, who took part in the rescue operation, told Cadena SER radio. "From the shoreline, we threw them ropes and life jackets."

Betancort said the survivors "were clinging to the sinking boat and screaming." He said most appeared to be between the ages of 25 and 35.

Five of the bodies, including one of an 8-year-old girl, were recovered on Sunday, Marine Rescue Service director Anibal Carrillo said. Fourteen more bodies were found when rescue operations resumed yesterday.

Carrillo said authorities estimated the fiberglass boat was carrying 28 people.

Thousands of people seeking a better life in Europe attempt treacherous journeys from Africa to the Canary Islands or the Spanish mainland in overcrowded boats every year. Most are caught, but hundreds die along the way.

"I hope it's the last time I see this. You feel totally useless," Betancort said. "You can't do anything with the sea so rough."

Migrants who manage to reach the islands are repatriated if authorities can identify where they came from. Otherwise, they are kept in a holding camp for 40 days and then set free without residency papers or work permits and told they must leave Spain.


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