CALABAR, Nigeria, March 21 Nigerian authorities have so far rescued 29 survivors from a boat carrying scores of trafficked immigrants that sank on its way to Gabon, the National Emergency Management Agency said on Thursday.
At least 45 people drowned, according a local doctor who said he received the bodies.
Initial reports from traders at the dock from where the boat departed suggested there were 166 people on board, but emergency agency spokesman Yushua Shuaib said on Thursday there were actually 128 people, based on the boat's manifest.
"The boat originated from Benin. Security agencies are still investigating the allegations that the boat was involved in human trafficking," he said. "The rescue operation is still ongoing."
He said the agency had itself only been made aware of nine bodies recovered so far.
Survivors told Reuters on Wednesday the boat had been carrying illegal immigrants trafficked to Gabon, an oil producing state of around 1.5 million people that enjoys relative prosperity by west and central African standards.
Trafficking routes from West Africa to Europe through Spain's Canary Islands are well known, but Gabon is also top destination for immigrants seeking a better life.
In July 2008, the bodies of 37 suspected illegal migrants were found dead on the seafront of Gabon's capital Libreville, after a boat capsized taking the same Nigeria to Gabon route. (Reporting by Afolabi Sotunde; Writing additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Lagos; Editing by Alison Williams)