On Sunday evening, around 6.30 / 7pm, when most residents of the islands were packing up after a pleasant weekend, the residents of Los Cocoteros, a small coastal village in Lanzarote, one of the eastern Canary Islands, were startled by screams and cries for help. A patera, a smallish fishing boat, had capsized, very close to shore.
This patera had begun its journey from the West Coast of Africa, probably Morrocco. It would have been designed for a few people to fish, haul in the catch, work in the boat, but this one carried between 28 and 32 people, who were desperate enough to risk the winter seas to try to find a new life in Europe.
Within meters of land the boat had overturned, as the churning ocean hit the rocky shore. Many of the people on the boat would have been wearing several layers of clothing – Atlantic nights are cold – so that even if they could swim it would have been almost impossible. The wet clothing would have dragged them down. Just six people survived.
That they failed to reach their dream so close to land adds a harrowing dimension to this tragedy. It isn’t the first boat to be lost on this desolate journey, and, sadly, it won’t be the last, but it has resonated with many people here. Of the 26 bodies recovered no less than 15 are said to be juveniles, some children as young as 6 or 8, one pregnant woman and the rest teenagers.
The full body count, no doubt will be confirmed tomorrow.
To their eternal credit several of the residents of the village rushed to help, especially one young man, a surfer, who launched his surfboard and helped pull victims to shore, before the rescue services arrived. Without him and his friends there probably would have been no survivors. His is the picture in the set of pictures you can find in this link, which looks slightly incongruous if you don’t know the story.
Tell me if picture number two isn’t one of the most upsetting you’ve seen. Our tv screens daily bring us pictures of starving children, homeless children, abused children in far-flung countries. We sigh. We pause for a moment. Maybe we get a lump in our throats. This child was trying to escape all of that.
Too full to write more.