BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service says at least 17 people are believed to have died aboard a migrant boat found adrift off the Canary Islands.

A Spanish military helicopter airlifted three survivors and was bringing them to land, a spokesperson with Spain's Maritime Rescue Service said.

The migrant boat was first spotted by a Spanish Air Force plane drifting in the Atlantic Ocean some 265 nautical miles from the island of El Hierro Monday morning. A search and rescue vessel was deployed to the area but wasn’t expected to reach the boat carrying the 17 bodies until Tuesday afternoon.

The Atlantic sea journey from the Western coast of Africa to the Spanish archipelago has become a major route for migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing conflict, violence and economic hardship exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Some 4,000 people have reached the Canaries so far this year according to Spain's Interior Ministry.

In 2020 at least 849 people were known to have died or gone missing trying to reach the Canaries while 23,000 reached their destination according to the U.N. migration agency’s Missing Migrants Project.


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