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At least 140 migrants die off Senegal in deadliest shipwreck of 2020

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Archive photo of the Senegalese coast.
Archive photo of the Senegalese coast.   -   Copyright  IOM/International Organization for Migration
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Over 140 died last week when a migrant ship sank off the coast of Senegal, the International Office for Migration (IOM) said on Thursday.

It was the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020, according to the UN migration agency.

Around 200 passengers set off in the vessel from the Senegalese town of Mbour on Saturday, heading for Spain's Canary Islands, but the boat soon caught fire and sank off Senegal's northwestern coast near Saint Louis.

Fifty-nine passengers were saved, the IOM said in a statement.

It came as the number of boats trying to reach the Canary Islands from Senegal's shores has “significantly increased in recent weeks," it added.

IOM estimates there have been roughly 11,000 arrivals to the Canary Islands this year compared to 2,557 arrivals during the same period last year.

This is still far below totals seen in 2006 when over 32,000 people arrived on the Spanish archipelago's shores.

Including Saturday's shipwreck, at least 414 people are known to have died along this route in 2020 according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which recorded 210 fatalities in the same area in all of 2019.

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 migrants to travel over land to Tunisia or Libya before attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

“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.