A cargo ship rescued 25 African migrants from a sinking boat in the Mediterranean Sea but survivors said up to 35 others died as the boat drifted for three days, the Spanish Red Cross said Tuesday.
The sub-Saharan Africans were rescued Monday afternoon south of Spain's Almeria province and taken to the southern Spanish port of Malaga, Francisco Roman, head of the Red Cross office there, told The Associated Press.
Survivors told Red Cross employees at the port the boat originally carried 50 to 60 people on board, Roman said. The bodies of people who died of hunger, thirst or exposure were thrown overboard.
"We can never know the exact number," he said.
‘A state of great anguish’
The 25 survivors included five women and five children. One woman said her husband and three small children died at sea, Roman said.
"She was in shock, in a state of great anguish," Roman said.
Mainland Spain and its Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa are magnets for destitute Africans who risk their lives for a chance to reach prosperous Europe's southern gateway and find work.
Two tragedies similar to this one claimed nearly 30 lives in July, also in waters off southern Spain.
Every year thousands of Africans attempt these treacherous journeys in overcrowded boats. Most are caught and hundreds more die along the way, either from exposure or by drowning.
Traditionally, migrants went through Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar or crossed the Mediterranean further east to get to the Spanish mainland. But a crackdown in recent years has prompted traffickers to move operations west to countries such as Mauritania, now the launching point for much-longer voyages to the Canary Islands.
The number of those who actually make it to the Canary Islands is down drastically because of better surveillance of African coastal waters, Spanish officials say.