LIBREVILLE, June 21 Ten people drowned and
another 20 remain unaccounted for after a boat carrying West
African clandestine migrants sank off the coast of Gabon, a
police official said on Friday.
The boat had left Nigeria and was within 15 minutes of
arriving in Gabon's capital Libreville when it went down late on
Tuesday night. Gabonese authorities rescued 23 survivors and the
search continued into Friday.
"Last night we had six bodies and since this morning we have
found four more, which makes a total of 10 recovered bodies. The
immigrants drowned," said a member of the nautical brigade of
Gabon's national police, who asked not to be named.
Police said the survivors - from Benin, Nigeria and Burkina
Faso - claimed to have each paid the boat's crew up to 500,000
CFA francs ($1,000) to take them to Gabon, where they hoped to
Local newspapers reported that the human traffickers
attempted to extort more money from the immigrants and had begun
throwing those who could not pay overboard.
Gabonese authorities said they were investigating the cause
of the sinking.
Oil-rich Gabon's relatively high wages for manual labourers
have made the tiny central African nation a popular destination
for regional migrants.
But entrance requirements are strict, pushing many to enter
the country illegally, often using the dangerous sea route from
Africa's most populous country, Nigeria.
At least 45 people died when a wooden boat carrying 166
migrants bound for Gabon capsized off Nigeria in March.
Some 35 people taking the same route died after their boat
sank off Cameroon in 2008.
($1 = 499.3390 CFA francs)
(Reporting by Jean-Rovys Dabany; writing by Joe Bavier; editing
by Tom Pfeiffer)