Spanish authorities are searching for several missing migrants after two small boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.
At least three people have died, while 10 others remain missing off the southern Spanish coast near Almeria.
Sixteen migrants were rescued southeast of the Cape of Gata after a passing vessel heard cries from the water during the night. According to survivors, a total of 29 migrants were onboard the two small boats.
Spanish authorities said that a rescue helicopter had saved three men, while thirteen others were picked up by a border patrol boat. The bodies of three people were also recovered in the operation on Monday.
In a separate incident, authorities also rescued 51 men from an inflatable boat near Lanzarote.
Last year more than 39,000 people tried to reach Spain illegally, according to Interior Ministry data. This includes more than 20,000 people who used boats to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Spain’s Canary Islands.
Meanwhile, at least 1,255 died during migrant crossings attempts — the highest since the United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM) began compiling records in 2014.
However, a report by Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras estimates the number of fatalities in 2021 was as high as 4,404.
The figure is more than double the number of migrants who died trying to cross from Africa to Spain in 2020, the NGO added.
“The reality is that there may be more victims and we don’t know about them,” said Caminando Fronteras spokesperson Helena Maleno.
Spain’s National Police announced last year that it arrested 202 people suspected of operating the boats taking migrants on the long and dangerous crossing from West Africa to the Canary Islands.