Over the last two days, Spanish marine rescue services reported that they rescued 72 migrants from two separate boats. At least 28 are thought to still be missing from another boat found about 120 kilometers south of Gran Canaria.
Spanish marine rescue services Salvamento Marítimo located a migrant boat about 65 miles (105 kilometers) south of the main Canary Island, Gran Canaria, early on Monday morning.
The airplane which first spotted the migrants on a rubber dinghy thought there may have already been migrants in the sea, although due to poor visibility, this couldn’t be immediately confirmed, reported Spanish state news agency Europa Press.
The rescue control center in Las Palmas immediately activated a call out to merchant ships nearby, and scrambled a helicopter from the coast guard to scan the area.
'At least 28 missing'
Only 13 migrants survived by the time rescue services reached the migrants. They were found clinging on to flotation devices when the coast guard arrived.
Local broadcaster Canarias 7 reported on Monday that at least 28 people could still be missing in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the broadcaster said the numbers of those thought missing could not yet be confirmed due to the ongoing rescue operation.
The 13 survivors originally came from sub-Saharan Africa and consisted of 12 men and one adolescent, Spanish news agency EFE reported.
The survivors told rescuers that there were at least 40 people on board originally and that they had been at sea for at least four days when a huge wave hit them and knocked the majority of passengers in to the sea, according to EFE.
Flown to hospital
The rescued migrants were flown by helicopter to the island of Gran Canaria. Two of them were treated for hypothermia, "while another two were taken to [the island of] Tenerife," Reuters reported.
The incident comes just 24 hours after another 44 migrants lost their lives in the Atlantic off the coast of Western Sahara. In this case, 12 people survived and were brought to shore by Moroccan emergency services.
The two nearby merchant ships, which responded to the Spanish emergency call, couldn’t come too close to the migrant boat, without potentially causing more harm, reported EFE, adding they tried to shield the migrants and rescuers from the wind as the operation unfolded.
Second incident, east of Lanzarote
In a separate incident in the Canary Islands archipelago on Tuesday, a total of 59 migrants had been brought to safety in the port of Arrecife, Canarias 7 reported. Their rubber dinghy was found east of the island of Lanzarote.
Five of the survivors were taken to hospital for assessment. It was not reported in what condition the others were, or how long they may have been at sea, nor from where they had set off in Africa.
As of May 8, 239 missing migrants have been recorded in 2022 on the Western Africa/Atlantic route to the Canary Islands, according to figures from the UN Migration Agency (IOM) Missing Migrants Project. In 2021, 1,109 migrant deaths were recorded on the same route.
Spanish human rights organization Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) estimates the death toll across all routes towards Spain to be at 4,404 during 2021. The majority of migrant deaths in Africa, however, take place on the Atlantic route to Spain.
Many of those who set off for the Canary Islands do not inform their families. Many don’t know for months, or even years, that their loved one could be missing, or dead, the organization said.