Spain's maritime rescue service said it rescued 48 people Thursday from a boat in the Mediterranean Sea while rescue vessels tried to reach a dinghy south of the Canary Islands with more than 60 migrants on board.
The rescue of 48 took place near Alboran, a small islet in the western Mediterranean halfway between Spain's southern coast and northern Morocco. The migrants were taken to safety to the Spanish town of Motril, officials said.
But rescuers were not expecting to reach the missing boat in the Atlantic Ocean until late in the evening. An emergency surveillance plane had last seen it 170 nautical miles south of the isle of Gran Canaria, the rescue service said.
At least 62 people were onboard when the boat departed early Wednesday from the coast near Dakhla, in Western Sahara, said Helena Maleno, founder of Walking Borders, a nongovernmental organization working on migration issues in northern Africa.
On Wednesday, Spanish rescuers found 40 migrants, including seven women, aboard two boats in the Mediterranean.
Although most of those trying to reach Europe depart from Libya, arrivals via the so-called Western route of the Mediterranean Sea have increased the fastest this year.
Spain's maritime rescue service said 5,800 people had been rescued in the first half of 2017, more than double the same period last year, when 2,411 people were rescued.
Walking Borders has noticed an increase in the departure of Moroccan and Algerian nationals, many of them underage, because of political instability in the northern African countries.
Others fleeing poverty or violence elsewhere in Africa and in the Middle East are also favoring the Western route because, Maleno said, "it is now being perceived, not as safer, but at least as less dangerous than going through Libya."