A boat carrying 200 people sank a few hours after leaving a Senegal fishing town, marking the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year by the UN migration agency.

French rescue workers stand next to a rescue vessel during a search operation after a boat carrying about 20 migrants capsized off the coast of Loon-Plage near Dunkirk, northern France, October 27, 2020.
French rescue workers stand next to a rescue vessel during a search operation after a boat carrying about 20 migrants capsized off the coast of Loon-Plage near Dunkirk, northern France, October 27, 2020. (Reuters)

At least 140 Europe-bound migrants have drowned off the coast of Senegal when their boat caught fire and capsized, marking the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year, the UN migration agency said.

The boat carrying 200 people sank a few hours after leaving the fishing town of Mbour, 100 km (60 miles) south of the capital Dakar, on Saturday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Thursday.

Video shared on local media showed a rescue boat of fishermen approaching a thick column of dark smoke in the open ocean, as people swam frantically towards them.

The Senegalese and Spanish navies and fishermen rescued some 60 people, but "at least 140 people have drowned," IOM said in a statement.

READ MORE: Dozens of migrants die in 2020's deadliest shipwreck in Mediterranean

Arrivals surge

Migrant arrivals in the Canary Islands from West Africa have more than quadrupled so far this year to around 11,000 compared with the same period in 2019, IOM said.

The surge has happened as other more favoured routes through Libya or Algeria, and across the Mediterranean Sea to southern Europe, have become blocked off by tougher controls.

The perilous sea passage to the Canary Islands was once a more popular route. Attempts became scarcer when Spain stepped up patrols in the mid-2000s.

But with fewer options, migrants seeking an escape from poverty or conflict are again taking the longer, 1,400-km (870-mile) sea route to the Spanish islands off the Moroccan coast, often in rickety, overcrowded boats with unreliable engines.

Fourteen boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the islands in September, over a quarter of which experienced an incident or shipwreck, the IOM said.

Senegal's shores were once a major departure point for those hoping to migrate to Europe. However, in recent years it had become more common for Senegalese to travel over land to Tunisia or Libya before attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

Those travelling by sea have been refused visas for European countries but take the risk of a perilous voyage for the chance to earn enough money to support their families back home.

“We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth,” said Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal chief of mission.

READ MORE: About 100 migrants fleeing Libya risk drowning in Mediterranean

Source: Reuters