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Stranded Migrants Go Ashore in Mauritania


Several hundred migrants stranded for a week off the coast of Mauritania in a crippled boat were allowed ashore Saturday, following an agreement between the west African country and Spain - the migrants' intended destination. Jordan Davis reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Mauritania agreed to allow the crippled freighter, known as the Marine One, to dock in the northern port city of Nouadhibou.

From there, Spain has agreed to take charge of the repatriation of as many as 400 migrants on board. While some Africans are on board, several hundred are believed to be from South Asia.

Aid groups in recent days expressed concern about the health and well-being of those aboard the Marine One.

Thomas Spindler with the U.N. High Commissioner For Refugees in Geneva says a ship in distress should be allowed to come ashore immediately, not left in limbo by a protracted diplomatic battle. "Sea masters and captains might be put in a position where, if they respond and do their humanitarian and moral duty to help people in peril, then they are left in a situation where they are not allowed to disembark these people, and have to take responsibility for them," he said.

The Marine One first sent out a distress signal February 2, when its engine broke down off the coast of Senegal.

The rusting freighter was met by a Spanish coastguard ship the next day. Senegalese officials refused to allow the boat to dock in a Senegalese port, and the Spanish boat towed the crippled boat to Mauritania.

Mauritanian authorities, in turn, declined to allow the ships' passengers ashore, arguing that they had started their journey much further south along the West African coast.

The European Union began joint patrols of the waters off Senegal and Mauritania last year to catch would-be migrants making the sea voyage up the West African coast to Spain's Canary Islands.

More than 30,000 migrants made their way to the Canaries last year. Spain has urged governments in the region to help stem the flow of illegal migrants.

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