At least four migrants found dead on boat off Canary Islands

FILE PHOTO: Boats used by migrants to reach the Canary Islands coasts, are seen piled up at Arinaga port, in Aguimes, on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Borja Suarez/File Photo

EL HIERRO (Reuters) - At least four people were found dead on a migrant boat off the Canary Island of El Hierro on Sunday, the Spanish Red Cross said.

The vessel was spotted by a fishing boat around 120 miles (193 km) to the south of El Hierro, one of the smallest of the Canary Islands, according to local media.

A rescue operation was underway on Sunday afternoon, with three helicopters deployed to airlift the injured to safety.

The Red Cross said that of the 23 people aboard the boat, 16 were in a "serious condition" and three in a better state had been airlifted to Tenerife. The four dead would be taken to El Hierro.

The number of undocumented migrants arriving in Spain's Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean was more than eight times higher last year than in 2019, with the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and other industries in north and sub-Saharan Africa pushing many more to embark on the dangerous journey.

Hundreds died or went missing last year after attempting the crossing to the islands, often in rickety, overcrowded boats with unreliable engines, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has said.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez; Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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