IMMIGRATION TRAGEDY

Fatal crash at sea was caused by mechanical failure on Civil Guard boat

Seven people still unaccounted for after collision off Lanzarote coast last week

The body of one of the immigrants is moved by the authorities in Lanzarote
The body of one of the immigrants is moved by the authorities in LanzaroteMARTÍNEZ DE CRIPÁN (EFE)

The Civil Guard has admitted that the accident off the coast of Lanzarote that resulted in the death of a would-be immigrant to Spain was caused by a mechanical failure on the patrol boat sent out to intercept the craft, which was carrying 25 people. The central government delegation in the Canaries initially claimed it was an "unfortunate accident," but it has now emerged that a turbine failure meant the crew lost control of the boat as it approached the immigrants' vessel.

After the crash, the four Civil Guard officers took to the water and rescued 17 of the passengers, including two children. One body was later recovered a mile from the site of the impact. According to survivors, there were 25 people on board. The remainder are still unaccounted for.

The incident occurred at 12.20am on Saturday. The patrol boat Cabaleiro was sent out to investigate reports of a craft approaching the coast. Despite the new moon and the calm sea, the civil guards could not see the boat in the darkness. Around 2am they realized that one of the propellers that guide the boat was broken and reported back that they were going to abandon the search and head for Arrecife.

At that moment the radar picked up the boat and the officers abandoned the idea of returning to port. But as the two boats neared each other the Civil Guard was unable to make its approach safely due to the technical failure and, according to the officers, the skipper of the immigrant's craft left the helm at that same instant and was unable to take evasive action.

Survivors say the patrol boat was moving fast and with its light out

Civil Guard sources have confirmed that an "in-depth" investigation has been opened. The officers, said the same sources, were "devastated, especially the skipper," after their search for survivors. The central government delegation in the Canaries, headed by María del Carmen Hernández Bento, has refused to comment.

Survivors of the accident have testified in the open investigation at an Arrecife court that "the patrol boat was going very fast" when it crashed side on into their vessel. Witnesses have also told the investigation that the patrol boat's lights were off. The officers have stated that they turned on the lights when they saw the boat and that as they did so the skipper of the immigrants' vessel abandoned the helm.

The police investigation - originally launched to determine who the skipper of the vessel was for a possible charge of illegal immigration - has now been expanded to determine the circumstances of the crash.

According to several organizations that offer social services to immigrants, "the public prosecutor would do well to ask for footage from the Integrated External Surveillance Service," which was set up to exert greater control over Spain's maritime borders.

The survivors were moved to a Gran Canaria internment center. One of them was taken to hospital last Friday with head injuries sustained in the crash.

One of the family members of the 17 survivors, who is living in Tenerife without residency papers, told this newspaper that he thought one of the missing passengers was "a friend of mine," but that he also believed his brother was still alive.

All of the survivors, who are of Moroccan nationality, will be repatriated to the North African country when the National Police force has filled out the necessary paperwork.

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