La Restinga, Spain, Oct 3 (EFE).- The port of La Restinga, on the Canary Island of El Hierro, received on Tuesday the cayuco with the most immigrants on board that have been recorded since the Canary Island Route of the Pateras was opened in 1994: more than 280 people crowded in rows of eight to ten occupants each, without space even to open their arms.
“I don’t remember any cayuco of that size. As far as I remember, the maximum on the route was 234 people,” José Antonio Rodríguez Verona, the head of the teams that the Red Cross deploys at the Canary Islands docks with each arrival of immigrants, told EFE.
The boat, 28 to 30 meters long and four meters wide, was detected by the Salvamar Adhara when it was just one kilometer from the coast. It was the third to reach El Hierro this Tuesday, but it carried more people than the other two combined, 127 and 91 people.
With no official count available yet because the assistance is still ongoing at the dock, the number of occupants ranges between the 280 that Spanish Maritime Rescue noted in a first approach and the 271 registered by the Red Cross team in La Restinga.
The cayuco, painted in multiple colors, as traditionally used by Senegalese fishermen, was carrying mainly young adult men but also a dozen women and two minors, according to the first counts. Among the minors, there is a small child.
Agencia EFE saw a video taken from the very edge of the dock where the disembarkation was taking place, which shows the degree of overcrowding on board: rows of eight to ten people crammed in four meters wide and people sitting on the bow with their feet outside the gunwale, with almost no possibility of changing position during the entire crossing.
The president of the Canary Islands, Fernando Clavijo, denounced today the “neglect” with which, in his opinion, the State was dealing with the increase in the arrival of small boats to the islands and demanded that they “start to offer solutions” to help the archipelago in this situation.
“This upturn confirms what we had said would happen,” he said.
The so-called Canary Route of the pateras was opened by two Saharawis who arrived in a small wooden boat to Fuerteventura on August 28, 1994.
Since then, about 180,000 people have used this route to reach the islands from the coast of Africa, in journeys ranging from 100 kilometers that separate the islands of Lanzarote or Fuerteventura from southern Morocco or northern Sahara to the 1,000 or 1,200 kilometers traveled by canoes from Senegal.
The cayucos appeared on the scene in 2005 to become the protagonists of the route the following year. Then, the maximum number of arrivals in the Canary Islands in one year was marked, with 31,678 people (double the number registered in 2023).
At that time, which became known as “the cayuco crisis”, there are records of boats with more than 200 people on board, such as the one that arrived in the south of Tenerife on September 30, 2008, with 229 occupants, which is among the largest of the route. EFE