Moroccan authorities said on Friday the navy had rescued 21 people after a boat carrying migrants sunk in the Mediterranean , with a rights group saying 45 others had drowned in the incident.
Tangiers – based association Caminando Fronteras said survivors and relatives reported “45 people lost their lives ” on Thursday after the vessel hit trouble as it headed towards Spain .
The group ’ s director Helena Maleno wrote on Twitter that there were a total of 67 people on board the boat and that seven women were among the survivors .
“ Only one body has been recovered, ” she said .
A senior Moroccan official refused to confirm the death toll given by Caminando Fronteras , but said the navy had rescued 21 people .
A second human rights organisation , AMDH- Nador , confirmed to AFP that one body had been taken to a local hospital after the navy rescue operation .
In the wake of the incident , the Spanish coastguard said they had offered to help Morocco and sent a helicopter to assist .
The issue of migrants making illegal crossings to Europe is highly sensitive in Morocco and the authorities are often cagey about giving details .
In January Caminando Fronteras reported that 50 migrants from Mauritania drowned off the Moroccan coast , but the authorities never confirmed the deaths .
The NGO alerts naval authorities to migrant boats in distress at sea as they attempt the crossing to Europe .
Activist Maleno said this month that a Moroccan court has dropped human trafficking charges against her , saying it sets a precedent for her struggle to save lives at sea.
Last year saw a “ substantial increase ” in arrivals to Europe along the western route from Morocco , with over 65, 000 people making it across the Mediterranean there , the European Union has said .
The International Organization for Migration says over 2 , 200 people died trying to make the perilous sea journey to Europe in 2018.
Moroccan authorities say they stopped 89, 000 people from sub – Saharan Africa and Morocco from making the journey during the year and rescued 29, 715 .