More than 30 migrants may have drowned after their boat sank in the Atlantic Ocean off the Canary Islands, two charities have said.
Walking Borders and Alarm Phone said the boat was carrying around 60 people.
Spanish authorities said rescue workers found the bodies of a minor and a man, and rescued 24 other people – but did not know how many people were onboard.
The incident places fresh scrutiny on Europe’s response to migration, after a boat sank off Greece last week.
Helena Maleno Garzon, from Walking Borders, said that 39 people had drowned, including four women and a baby, while Alarm Phone said 35 people were missing. Both organisations monitor migrant boats and receive calls from people on board or their relatives.
The boat sank about 100 miles (160km) south-east of Gran Canaria on Wednesday.
“It’s torture to have 60 people, including six women and a baby, waiting for more than 12 hours for a rescue in a flimsy inflatable boat that can sink,” Ms Garzon said.
A Spanish rescue service ship, the Guardamar Caliope, was only about an hour’s sail from the dinghy on Tuesday evening, Reuters reported, citing Spanish state news agency EFE.
The ship did not aid the dinghy because the operation had been taken over by Moroccan officials, which dispatched a patrol boat that arrived on Wednesday morning, 10 hours after it had been spotted by a Spanish rescue plane, Reuters reports.
The BBC has sent a request for comment to Morocco’s interior ministry.
Angel Victor Torres, leader of the Canary Islands region, described the incident as a “tragedy” and called on the European Union to establish a migration policy that “offers coordinated and supportive responses” to the issue of migration.
Although off Africa’s western coast, the Canary Islands are part of Spain, and many migrants travel from Africa to the archipelago in the hope of reaching mainland Europe.
The Western Africa-Atlantic migration route is considered one of the world’s deadliest, and at least 543 migrants died or went missing on that journey in 2022, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
IOM said there were 45 shipwrecks on the route during that period, but acknowledged the figure is “probably underestimated” because data is scarce and incomplete.
Most of those making the journey are from Morocco, Mali, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, it said.
Separately, Spanish authorities also rescued more than 160 people from three other boats near the islands of Lanzarote and Gran Canaria overnight on Wednesday and Thursday morning.
The news comes after a migrant boat carrying hundreds of people sank off the Greek coast last week, with at least 78 known to have died, although many more are feared to have drowned.
The UN’s human rights office says that up to 500 people are still missing, and the BBC has obtained evidence casting doubt on the Greek coastguard’s account of what happened. The coastguard claims that the boat was on a course to Italy and not in need of rescue.__BBC.com