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.
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, Reuters reports.
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 find work.
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 laborers 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.