Senegal intercepts 186 migrants en route to Spain

Migrants disembark from a dinghy at Del Canuelo beach after they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, in Tarifa, sourthern Spain. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Senegalese marines have intercepted 186 people trying to make their way to Spain’s Canary Islands aboard two wooden canoes, the West African state’s military said on Thursday.

A patrol vessel off Mbour, a city south of the capital Dakar, stopped the informal craft during an operation late Tuesday night and in the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to a military statement.

A Spanish vessel also took part in the operation, as part of the European Union border agency Frontex, which cooperates with some West African nations.

One wooden canoe — a traditional fishing craft known as a “pirogue” — was carrying 56 people “believed to all be Senegalese,” the statement said.

The second was carrying about 130 people, some of whom were likely from the tiny river state of The Gambia, which is completely surrounded by Senegal.

West African migrants have increasingly opted to take the Atlantic migration route to the Canaries in recent years, as authorities have clamped down on crossings from Libya to Europe.

The archipelago lies more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the coast of Africa at its closest point.

But the open-ocean route is perilous.

At least 251 people died attempting the crossing between January 1 and September 17, according to the International Organisation for Migration, compared to 210 fatalities for the whole of last year.