Migrants treated on the beach for symptoms of drowning, this Wednesday in Chiclana (Cádiz).EL PAÍS
"It's not hashish, it's immigrants!" shouted Javier González when he visualized the Dantesque scene that was taking place before his eyes, in the middle of a storm of rain and wind that hit the Sancti Petri channel last Wednesday afternoon, between San Fernando and Chiclana (Cádiz). The owner of a nautical company was on a sandwich break while working with a production company for a shoot when he saw a narco-boat with three outboard motors appear in which four occupants began to push eight others into the sea. Gonzalez is clear that his quick intervention, which he threw with his zodiac into the sea to rescue them and his son, prevented a greater tragedy: "They would have all drowned, they had a lot of clothes on them, they didn't know how to swim and it's an area of eddies of water."
Four migrants die in Cadiz after being thrown into the sea from a speedboat
However, the event, unprecedented in the Strait of Gibraltar, ended in disgrace. Of the 35 immigrants who were traveling in the RIB with three outboard motors — which, at first glance, falls under the classification of a prohibited genre as a narco-boat — four drowned and three others needed hospital care for hypothermia. The boat's occupants, men of Moroccan origin and mostly young people around the age of 18, said that the four members of the mafia first arrived at the nearby beach of Camposoto, in San Fernando. There, they were forced to jump, but eight of them "refused because they were afraid," according to sources close to the rescuers who gave them the first attention.
It was then that the drug boat entered the Sancti Petri channel, a very common area for drug traffickers from the Strait. "That same morning we saw two boats of petaqueros," Gonzalez said, referring to the suppliers of fuel and food to the traffickers. The manager of the nautical company soon realized that the scene was very different from what he was used to: "I don't remember anything like it." The four alleged smugglers began pushing the migrants and throwing them into the sea. "They told us that they were told that they should either jump or be shot," says the Cadiz native. Other sources close to the officers who gave them the first attention point out that the young people claim that they threatened them "with a knife".
Members of the production company and the Sancti Petri Yacht Club help the migrants thrown from the drug boat, this Wednesday in Chiclana.EL PAÍS
Gonzalez and his son made up to three trips with their zodiac: "We started with those who were already upside down, drowning." Once on the shore, the members of the production company and the Sancti Petri Yacht Club rushed to revive and help them. "They were dressed in up to seven layers of clothing. They could barely speak, the only sound was the chattering of teeth," adds a worker at the club, who prefers to remain anonymous. Some of those present at the scene recorded the scene, of great harshness, in which part of the children can be seen treated with symptoms of hypothermia and drowning. "We changed them and rolled them up with all the clothes we had at our disposal, from flags of Spain and Andalusia, to promotional polo shirts," says the same woman, still visibly affected by what she experienced.
After that first moment, some of those rescued were able to explain that they had paid up to 5,000 euros for the trip, according to González and confirmed by the same sources of the first attention. The National Police and the Civil Guard are still investigating what happened with the secrecy of the Government Subdelegation in Cadiz, which has refused to provide any details about the investigations. Gonzalez, who was able to see the drug boat a few meters away, assures that it was occupied by three men and a woman "who was in charge" and that two of them "were Arabs and two others were Spaniards," although that information has not been officially confirmed.
For years now, agents who fight drug trafficking in the Strait have been detecting that drug traffickers take advantage of their hashish transports to embark migrants to cross the Strait on a much faster journey, but also more dangerous due to the speeds reached by these boats. "It's a profitable operation for the drug traffickers as well. It is not that it is very common, but there are organizations that, apart from introducing drugs, take advantage of the fact that they have boats in the water and transport immigrants," says the same source from the Civil Guard.
The rescuers improvised an attention with the means and clothes they had at their disposal.
In these cases, the most common thing is for the boat to be loaded with several tons of hashish and, in the limited space available, to embark migrants. A very different operation from the one on Wednesday, in which the drug boat seemed to be occupied only by migrants. The key for investigators to unravel, if they can come to it, will be to know whether they were drug traffickers who have diversified their activity or human traffickers who have resorted to narco means to carry out their illegal activity.
Speedboats to transport irregular migrants to Spain have proliferated since 2018, the year in which an all-time record of arrivals on the coast was broken. The so-called taxi boats, the most common, usually have a maximum length of 12 meters and two 250 horsepower engines, boats that have also been traditionally used for tobacco smuggling or drug trafficking. The semi-rigid boat that he saw this Wednesday on the coasts of Cadiz fits the profile of a narco-boat or go-fast, larger boats equipped with more than two engines. These boats are banned in Spain and even the security forces have difficulty pursuing them on the high seas.
Although it is not a new phenomenon, the proliferation of this type of vessel this year has put the authorities on alert. While last year there were hardly any episodes related to irregular immigration with this type of boat, this year there are almost 200 boats involved in the transport of immigrants, according to sources familiar with the phenomenon. Even so, the information is not clear and there is a lack of data on the true modus operandi of the mafias that are doing business with them. It has been found that they leave mainly from the north of Morocco, that they are generally occupied by Moroccans, that they pay up to 10,000 euros for the journey and that those responsible for the journey have used violence against migrants on a recurring basis. This was confirmed this summer in a confidential report by the European border agency to which El PAÍS had access.
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