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19 migrants drown off Spanish tourist island

  • Story Highlights
  • Reports say 8-year-old girl among the dead
  • Boat went down off the coast of Lanzarote island
  • Six survivors found. Authorities still searching for more bodies
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By Al Goodman
CNN's Madrid Bureau Chief
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Nineteen Africans perished when their small boat sank just off the coast of Spain's Lanzarote Island, a Spanish government official told CNN on Monday.

There were six survivors from the shipwreck of would-be illegal immigrants on Sunday afternoon, and authorities were still searching for several other bodies, the official said.

Five bodies were recovered on Sunday and 14 more on Monday, said the official, a senior aide in the central government's main office in Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands.

It was thought there were 28 people aboard the small boat when it swamped just off the Teguise section, on the east coast of Lanzarote.

The popular tourist destination of Lanzarote is one of Spain's seven Canary Islands in the Atlantic, and it is one of those closest to the Moroccan mainland.

For years, smugglers have launched small boats toward the Canary Islands, carrying poor African migrants who hope to set foot on European Union soil in the Canaries, and thus begin a process of making it to mainland Spain or the rest of the EU, in order to earn money.

Seas have been relatively calm in recent days, the conditions that smugglers prefer to send over the boats. African migrants typically pay hundreds of euros for a place aboard the flimsy ships.

Spanish news reports said the dead included an 8-year-old girl and that the ship appeared to carry mainly people from the Maghreb region of north Africa, such as Morocco.

Spain and the European Union have stepped up controls to prevent the small boats from leaving African shores, or to detect them and turn them back near Africa.

In 2008, the number of Africans reaching Spain's Canary Islands illegally in small boats was 9,181, down 26 percent from the 12,478 who made it in 2007, the Interior Ministry said in a recent statement.

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