Tragedy off the south coast of Gran Canaria as woman and baby die trying to make landfall
An attempt by migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands Archipelago, in search of a better life, ended in tragedy in the early hours of Thursday morning, with at least one woman and a one and a half year old baby drowned and one other woman missing, possibly dead, after they were forced from a ship into an open boat of about seven meters in length on Wednesday night, to attempt landing on a rocky Arguineguín beach in the dark. 28 people were thought to have been on the Patera, of which seven were children, including three aged under 3 years old.
The first alert was raised by residents of Arguineguín. A few minutes after eleven o’clock at night migrants were noticed wandering on Avenida Alcalde Paco González, having just disembarked on to a beach known as El Perchel, located behind the soccer field. The main 112 Emergency and Security Coordination Centre began to mobilise a broad search for the presence of people in the water.
Residents themselves were the first to attend to those people who had just managed to reach the coast, providing blankets, food and even bottles for the three youngest children, who were with their mothers. The Guardia Civil soon arrived at the scene followed by Mogán Local Police and Civil Protection volunteers, as well as Red Cross, who received confusing information.
Among the travellers was a woman who appeared to be in crisis, it soon became apparent that while trying to reach the coast her one-year-old baby, who she had been carrying on her back, tied using a cloth, had fallen into the sea and the woman did not know where the child was. Other witness testimonies also stated that more people had disappeared while trying to get to dry land.
This led to a broad search operation being deployed from early morning, with a Helimer 202 Maritime Rescue helicopter searching from the air and several security services and volunteers trying to locate the missing people: the baby and two women. Numerous boats joined the aircraft, including the Salvamar Menkalinan, based at the Arguineguín dock, a Guardia Civil coastal patrol boat and a Red Cross boat.
The operation was extended from first light by an Emergency and Rescue Group (GES) AH-31 deployed by the Canary Islands Government and a third Guardia Civil aircraft, searching from the air. Members of the Underwater Activities Task Force (GEAS), combed the shoreline of El Perchel beach. And on the ground, Policia Local and Protección Civil assisted alongside the Civil Guard.
By the early morning on Thursday the total number of migrants located stood at 19 people, 17 of whom were sub-Saharan in origin -11 women, three men and three children- and two Maghrebis; during the day another six were located, three of them in the Plaza de Las Marañuelas neighbourhood, according to news agency Efe. In total, 25 people, of which 18 are adults -11 women and seven men- and seven minors.
Shortly after three o’clock on Thursday afternoon, a recreational boat reported to Maritime Rescue that they had had sighted several life vests drifting a little over a mile out from Arguineguin. When the Salvamar Menkalinan arrived at the scene, they found the body of a woman, which was evacuated to the Arguineguin dock. The search resumed early on Friday, relocating along the coast.
The Guardia Civil Special Group for Underwater Activities (GEAS) and the patrol boat River Tambre of the Civil Guard reported at 2:00 pm this Friday that the lifeless body of the one-year-old baby who disappeared from the boat had been discovered floating in waters near the coast of Taurito beach in the municipality of Mogán.
The seven metre long patera (open fishing boat) in which they reached the coast of Arguineguín last Wednesday night, was eventually located adrift between El Pajar and Pasito Blanco, about a kilometre from where the landing took place.
As so often happens in these cases, it is thought that the people traffickers transported the group from their starting point either on the coast of Morocco or the disputed territory of Western Sahara and then as they approached the island on Wednesday night forced the, at least, 28 people on board the patera – the 25 found, plus the drowned woman and baby, and the missing woman – to disembark when they were near to the coast. The security forces have opened an investigation to try to locate the skipper of the vessel, who would now face prosecution for a serious crime against the rights of foreign citizens and another of reckless homicide once located.
So far this year, 30 such migrant boats have arrived on the coasts of the Canary Islands carrying a total of 305 people to these shores. With at least one individual having died in the attempt before this one on Wednesday night, the death toll now for 2019 is at least three maybe four lost souls. The number of attempted landings that have been intercepted has increased compared to the 24 boats with 234 people on board that reached the coasts in the first four months of last year.
Within the same 24 hours this week three boats have arrived on the islands with 53 people on board, two on Fuerteventura and one on Gran Canaria. Among them, 18 are presumed minors, and there have been several babies and two pregnant women.
Wednesday’s boat is the third largest number of people to reach the coast so far this year, with a boat that arrived on May 15 on Fuerteventura having been the most crowded, carrying 35 people, including two pregnant women.
These are just the boats we know of, the ones lucky enough to reach dry land.