Moroccan navy intercepts 141 migrants attempting to reach Spain by crossing Atlantic Ocean

  • The Moroccan navy intercepted 141 migrants attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
  • The rescue operation took place off the coast of the Western Sahara, a disputed territory controlled by Morocco since 1975.
  • All 141 people rescued were from sub-Saharan Africa and likely began their journey from Mauritania, Morocco’s southern neighbor.

The Moroccan navy said it intercepted 141 people attempting to traverse the Atlantic Ocean as migration from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands has spiked since the beginning of the year.

Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces said in a statement Sunday it was able to rescue all passengers on a boat off the coast of the Western Sahara, a disputed territory with a coastline that Morocco has controlled since 1975.

It said the 141 people all came from sub-Saharan Africa and likely embarked more than a week earlier from Mauritania — Morocco’s southern neighbor and the primary point of departure for migrants attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.

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The interception was the largest that Moroccan authorities have reported this year.

Moroccan navy

A Moroccan navy boat is seen on May 19, 2021. The Moroccan navy said it has intercepted 141 people attempting to traverse the Atlantic Ocean. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy, File)

The Canary Islands are roughly 62 miles from Morocco’s Atlantic coast but pirogues — the wooden vessels migrants often use to cross — often launch from as far south as Gambia, from where the journey can take up to 10 days, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

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Spain’s Interior Ministry reported 11,704 migrants had arrived to the Canaries as of Feb. 15 — more than a sixfold increase from a year earlier. The majority have departed from Mauritania, which recently signed a 210 million euro agreement with the European Union that included funding for migration patrolling and humanitarian aid.

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