(DAKAR, Senegal) — At least 58 people are dead after a boat carrying dozens of migrants capsized in the Atlantic Ocean off the West African nation of Mauritania, the U.N. migration agency said Wednesday. It said 83 people swam to shore.
It was one of the deadliest disasters this year among migrants trying to make the perilous journey to Europe.
The boat carrying at least 150 people had been low on fuel while approaching Mauritania, the International Organization for Migration said in a statement. Survivors were being helped by Mauritanian authorities in the northern city of Nouadhibou, the U.N. agency said.
Survivors said the boat, with women and children on board, had left Gambia on Nov. 27.
An unknown number of injured were taken to the hospital in Nouadhibou.
“The Mauritanian authorities are very efficiently coordinating the response with the agencies currently present in Nouadhibou,” said Laura Lungarotti, chief of mission in Mauritania with the migration agency.
There was no immediate statement from authorities in Gambia, a small West African nation from which many migrants set off in hopes of reaching Europe.
Despite Gambia’s small size, more than 35,000 Gambian migrants arrived in Europe between 2014 and 2018, according to the U.N. migration agency.
A 22-year oppressive rule by then President Yahya Jammeh severely affected the country’s economy, especially for Gambia’s youth, and contributed greatly to the surplus of migrants hoping to get to Europe or elsewhere.
Since Jammeh was voted out in 2016 and fled into exile in January 2017, European countries have been pushing to return asylum seekers. But Gambia’s economy still suffers.
The coastal nation was shaken earlier this year by the collapse of British travel company Thomas Cook. At the time, Gambia’s tourism minister said the government convened an emergency meeting on the collapse, while some Gambians said the shutdown could have a devastating impact on tourism, which contributes more than 30% of the country’s GDP.