JG - Ship of migrants heads for port
Ship of migrants heads for port
published: Sunday February 11, 2007
A battered ship crammed with hundreds of Asian and African migrants headed into a Mauritanian port yesterday after days of diplomatic wrangling with Spain over which country should take it in.
"The order has been given for the boat to sail towards Nouadhibou. It is currently on its way," said Ahmedou Ould Haye of the Mauritanian Red Crescent by telephone from a meeting with Spanish officials.
Mauritanian officials said earlier they had not agreed to accept the migrants Spain insisted they had.
Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Mara Teresa Fernndez de la Vega told reporters on Friday Mauritania had agreed to the Marine 1 cargo freighter being towed into its northern fishing port of Nouadhibou where Red Cross and Red Crescent workers were waiting.
Spain's interior minister said on Saturday there was a deal, which involved the ship docking in Nouadhibou and Spain taking responsibility for repatriating the migrants, Spanish state radio reported.
Spain, which is on the frontline of Europe's efforts to stem an influx of illegal job-seekers, has been lobbying Mauritania to take responsibility for the stranded migrants.
Over 300 people aboard the Marine 1 claim to be from Indian Kashmir, and therefore eligible for asylum status, according to the Red Cross. Others say they are from Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka and Liberia, it said.
The 50-metre vessel is thought to have set sail from Guinea on its way to Spain's Canary Islands. The ship sent out an SOS signal on February 2 after its motors broke down off Senegal.
It was intercepted the following day by a Spanish coastguard vessel which towed the freighter to its position off Nouadhibou.
That began a row over who should take in the ship and its passengers, with Spain, Senegal and Mauritania refusing to take responsibility.
The ship has become a test case for Madrid, which launched a diplomatic offensive in West Africa last year to try to stem soaring illegal migration from the poverty-stricken region to the Canaries.