Spanish rescuers found 11 bodies floating in the sea off the Balearic Islands on Monday, pulling another three people to safety, a government spokesman said.
“Three people were rescued alive and 11 bodies have been recovered,” a government delegation spokesman said, after initially saying that 17 bodies had been spotted floating in the water just west of the island of Cabrera.
The Salvamento Maritimo coastguard had quickly launched a rescue operation after being tipped off by a sailing boat just after 1400 GMT which said it had spotted “about 17 lifeless bodies in the sea”.
There was no immediate confirmation they were migrants but growing numbers have tried to reach the Spanish mainland or its islands in both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in recent weeks.
Over the course of six days last week, rescuers pulled 274 migrants to safety off the Balearic Isles, figures provided by the government delegation showed.
In the first nine months of the year, 13,320 migrants managed to reach mainland Spain and the Balearic Isles by boat, interior ministry figures show, a nearly 20-percent increase on the same period in 2020.
Over the same period, 13,118 people made the perilous journey to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, more than double the 6,124 of last year.
The sea route is fraught with danger, with more than 1,000 people dying while trying to reach Spain in 2021 in what the International Organization for Migration has called “the deadliest year on the migratory route to Spain”.
The Canaries route is particularly bad, with at least 785 people dying en route between January and August this year, the IOM said.
But Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish NGO that monitors SOS calls from migrants at sea, suggests the real figure is more than 2,000.