A Spanish official says spotter planes are helping curtail the number of West African migrant boats

MADRID (AP) — The deployment of two Spanish surveillance planes to watch for migrant boats heading on the treacherous route from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands has enabled authorities to stop 59 canoes from Senegal and Gambia carrying around 7,200 migrants in the past two months, a senior official said Friday.

The boats that were stopped accounted for around half of those that officials believed would otherwise be heading to the Canary Islands off northwest Africa over that period, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said.

The archipelago has witnessed a record number of irregular migrant arrivals this year.

Grande-Marlaska told reporters during a visit to the archipelago that “we have saved lives, because you know that the Canary Islands route is a very dangerous route.” The spotter planes are stationed in Senegal and the Canary Islands, he said.

Grande-Marlaska held talks in the islands with the European Union’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, amid continental efforts to help Spain stanch a record number this year of migrants to the Canary Islands.

Johansson said that this year more than 36,000 migrants have arrived in the Canary Islands by sea, more than 4,000 of them unaccompanied minors.

That exceeded the migration numbers of 2006, the last migrant surge in the archipelago, when 31,678 migrants disembarked.

Most of the migrants heading to the Canary Islands come from Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco, officials say.

Their journey is one of the longest and deadliest to Europe. At least 512 people have died so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, though the figure is believed to be a vast undercount.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares began a two-day trip to Senegal and Mauritania on Friday to discuss the Canary Island migration situation with local authorities.

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