Over 20,000 illegal immigrants came to the Canaries last year and yachtsmen are being put on the alert


Another ARC incident that touches on even more serious questions is the encounter last week by two yachts of a refugee vessel on its way to the Canary Islands. They gave the crew of the overcrowded boat food and water and stood by until the Spanish authorities took over.

This is a major problem, and is so commonplace that advice now forms part of the annual ARC skippers’ briefing.

The route through the Canary Islands and into Europe has become a motorway. Thousands of illegal migrants make the dangerous journey from Africa to the Canaries every year. An estimated 4,5700 migrants arrived in the Canaries in 2005 and numbers quadrupled to over 18,000 last year. The nearest point of the islands is only 70 miles from the Moroccan coast.

Many of these illegal immigrants have been duped by human traffickers and are shipped across in extremely ill-found and overcrowded boats. Some 4,000 people are estimated to have died en route in the past 5 years. Last year a yacht that investigators believed had originally had 50 people on board was found drifting off Barbados with 11 bodies on board.

They had been on their way from Senegal to the Canary Islands. A note found on board stated that they had each paid a trafficker US$1,500. The boat ran into trouble off the Mauritanian coast and the refugees were unable to continue. The weak perished first, some bodies were believed to have been cannibalised, others thrown overboard, but eventually all on board perished.

The official advice if you are leaving the Canary Islands to go transatlantic is to report vessels and standby, not to approach at close quarters, but to wait there until the Spanish authorities arrive. They will use a yacht and her communications as a means of locating the vessel.