The death toll from the shipwreck overnight from Saturday to Sunday off Madagascar of a boat carrying migrants to the French island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean has risen to 34 dead, Malagasy maritime authorities announced on Tuesday.
The boat which was carrying about sixty passengers sank off the northern coast of the Big Island. A first report on Monday reported about twenty deaths.
The bodies recovered by the authorities on Tuesday, including those of three children, are "in a state of advanced decomposition", Jean Edmond Randrianantenaina , director of the Port, Maritime, and River Agency (APMF), told AFP.
An investigation is underway. A survivor, a young pregnant woman, will be a key witness. She is one of 24 people rescued by fishermen the night of the sinking. 23 other survivors fled before authorities arrived.
The young woman, who was hospitalized, began to be interviewed by investigators. According to a source at the gendarmerie, the boat capsized because it was too loaded.
Wanted notices were launched in the evening against two Madagascans, a man, and a 47-year-old woman, accused of being the smugglers. They are wanted for "illegal boarding and clandestine transport, involuntary homicide of passengers to Mayotte".
Capsizes of kwassa kwassa, small motorized fishing boats used by smugglers, occur regularly on the sea route linking the Comoros, or Madagascar, to Mayotte.
Many African and Comorian migrants try every year clandestinely to reach Mayotte, half of whose population is foreign. The Comorian island of Anjouan has located only 70 km from Mayotte.
Since 2019, the French State has considerably increased its means of combating this illegal immigration, with in particular the continuous presence at sea of interceptor boats and aerial surveillance. Visiting Mayotte in December, the French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, expressed his desire to strengthen the fight.
In 2021, 6,355 migrants and 324 smugglers were arrested, as well as 459 boats were destroyed, according to French authorities.
There are no reliable statistics on the deaths of these risky clandestine crossings. According to an information report from the French Senate published in the early 2000s, around a thousand people die there every year.