Dozens of Moroccan migrants rescued at sea

Moroccan police watch a monitor during an event, open to the public in Marrakesh. (AFP pic)

RABAT: Morocco’s navy rescued 37 of its citizens off the country’s coast on Wednesday, as they were trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the armed forces said.

The migrants were saved from their partially-inflated rubber dinghy, which was struggling in “unfavourable meteorological conditions”, Morocco’s military said in a statement.

After being rescued off the coast of Tangier on Morocco’s northern coast, the group was taken to the city’s port where they were “safe and sound”.

The dinghy they had been travelling in “sank just after the rescue operation”, the armed forces said.

The incident came a day after at least 13 people died when their boat ran into trouble off the coast of Nador in the country’s northeast.

Thirty-two migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were saved, according to local authorities, while organisations which support migrants put the death toll at 34.

Thousands of people have tried to reach Europe from Morocco, most of them on boats bound for Spain or via the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa.

More than 40,000 migrants have made it to Spain since the start of the year, including around 35,000 by sea, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Morocco said last month it had foiled 54,000 bids so far this year by people trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Some 80 smuggling networks have been dismantled in the same period, according to the interior ministry.

As part of the crackdown, Morocco’s navy last week opened fire on a speedboat which was ferrying migrants to Spain.

A 22-year-old student was killed in the shooting, while three other Moroccans were wounded, sparking criticism from rights groups.