ST. LOUIS, Senegal -- A fishing boat crowded with more than 100 African migrants capsized at least twice while sailing to Spain's Canary Islands, spilling passengers and leaving scores dead as survivors drifted for about 10 days without food or water, officials said yesterday .
The boat sank off Senegal's coast Saturday and a Red Cross official said at least 80 migrants died. Fishermen rescued about two dozen people in the water near St. Louis, and about 12 were hospitalized yesterday at the health clinic in this northern Senegal town.
Deep poverty drives thousands to make the treacherous sea journey to Spanish lands where they believe jobs await. Fishing boats with a single outboard motor carry 40 or 50 people -- and sometimes more -- on trips that can take weeks.
"If he took all these risks, it's because he saw the situation his family was in," said Awa Sow, whose son Souleymane was hospitalized. "I have prayed and prayed for him. Maybe my prayers helped him come back."
An official of the Spanish Red Cross said the death toll was preliminary and could be revised upward as interviews with survivors in St. Louis continued. It was unclear if any bodies had been recovered.
The boat left Dec. 4 near the southern Senegalese town of Djiffer, about 180 miles from St. Louis, said Lieutenant Mohamadou Moustapha Sylla, spokesman for a European-Senegalese task force working to stop the tide of illegal migrants heading to Spain's Canary Islands in an attempt to gain a toehold in Europe.
Health officials said the boat capsized at least twice, spilling passengers into the water, and then drifted for about 10 days. Survivors had no food or water, said Demba Dieng, a health worker at the hospital.
All the migrants rescued were dehydrated and undernourished after days at sea, Senegalese officials said. Thousands of illegal migrants have reached the Canary Islands this year -- many leaving from coastal African countries such as Senegal and Mauritania. Hundreds have died this year in their attempts to navigate rough seas in their open, outboard-powered craft.