After a shipwreck in the Mediterranean | Photo: Reuters /Giorgios Moutafis
After a shipwreck in the Mediterranean | Photo: Reuters /Giorgios Moutafis

A coastal town in Gambia is in mourning after at least 63 people died in a shipwreck off the coast of Mauritania on December 4.

At least 63 people have been found dead so far from the shipwreck which took place off the Mauritanian coast on December 4. The ship originally set sail from Barra in the Gambia. Barra is a small coastal town on the northern bank of the river Gambia, just across the estuary mouth from Gambia’s capital Banjul. Now people in the town of Barra are in mourning.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the shipwreck took place about 25 km north of the port city of Nouadhibou in Mauritania, not far from the border with Western Sahara. Reportedly those aboard the boat had run out of fuel and were attempting to approach the Mauritanian coast, in doing so, it is believed they hit a rock which caused the boat to sink.

All the victims have been identified as Gambian. “Many of their bodies have been recovered from the sea and will be buried during the night,” Mamadou Diawara, Gambian Ambassador to Mauritania told the French broadcaster Radio France International (RFI).

The diplomat is working with the Mauritanian authorities in order to repatriate any survivors back to the Gambia. “We thank the Mauritanian government and the Mauritanian authorities in both Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. We will continue to work with them regarding the formal identification process and the repatriation of survivors.”

Rumors of departure run through Barra

Caught up in this latest migration tragedy were eight women and one child. A lot of the victims came from Barra itself. Many of the victims’ families live just doors away from each other in the center of town. Abraham Gomez lost his sister in the accident. He thought she was just going away for a short while to celebrate the birth of a baby.

“My mother’s situation made her very unhappy. That is why she decided to risk her life. She didn’t even tell us she was leaving. I only knew she was on the boat three days after her departure.”

According to one of the survivors, almost 200 people climbed on board the boat which was headed for the Canary Islands, Spanish administered islands off the west coast of Africa. Fatou Mborge’s grandson was among them. In Barra everyone seemed to know a departure was imminent, recounts Fatou.

“The boat was moored in Barra. The smugglers were looking for passengers. When my grandson and two other people in his building heard they were about to depart, they decided they would join it too. We were hoping they would be successful because recently two other boats reached their destination.”

In another home, a young 21-year-old mother is also missing. Her mother learned about her death via a voice message sent to her by a survivor, the son of the head of the village.

Translated from the French original by RFI by Emma Wallis; death toll updated from the original to 63 on December 6, 2019, 4 pm CET


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