Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants heading for Spain's Canaries, six dead

MADRID (Reuters) -A luxury cruise ship rescued 68 migrants trying to reach the Spanish Canary Islands in a fishing boat that had stalled in rough seas, Spanish authorities and the cruise operator said on Thursday.

Six people died in the incident.

The archipelago has become the main point of entry to Spain for illegal migrants from Africa in recent years and the route is also the deadliest. Migration rights group Walking Borders said last week that nearly 5,000 migrants died at sea on that route during the first five months of 2024.

Bulk carrier Philipp Oldendorff sighted the boat adrift 440 nautical miles (815 km) south of the island of Tenerife on Wednesday and provided first assistance to the migrants, while the Insignia cruise ship was diverted to the area to pick up the survivors, the Spanish Coast Guard said in a statement.

The Insignia, which is owned by Miami-based Oceania Cruises, also recovered three bodies from the boat. Bad weather prevented recovery of another two bodies so the ship left a locating device to facilitate the search.

The small luxury cruise ship with a 670-passenger capacity is undertaking a 180—day trip around the world that started in January.

"Safety of life at sea is of paramount importance for all seafarers," said a spokesperson for Oceania Cruises, which is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

"We can confirm that the Insignia rescued 68 people from a vessel in distress between Cape Verde and Tenerife, brought them onboard for medical assistance and provided food, drinks, clothing and a safe place to rest," the spokesperson added.

A Spanish coast guard vessel was en route from the Canary Islands on Thursday to meet the Insignia and then locate the shipwreck.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Borja Suarez, Aislinn Laing; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Frances Kerry and Rod Nickel)