The Chronicle of Desolation
Twenty-eight of the 43 men who started their cayuco journey on December 15 from Nouadhibou (Mauritania) to the Canaries, probably to El Hierro, lost their lives due to thirst, hunger and cold in the Atlantic. This episode becomes the last tragedy of the worst year recorded on the Canary Route.
The Meaning of the Numbers
In the case of foreigners, each cayuco receives a number that identifies him, assigned by the Police. The bureaucracy highlights this fixation with numbers, from the departure to the last farewell, beyond how many leave or arrive. Among the tombstones recently placed in the cemeteries of El Hierro, inscriptions such as crewman 1, immigrant k 2, immigrant F01 or simply F-08 and J-15 appear, next to a date.
The Omitted Stories
Behind these figures, are the stories of the men who were on board the cayuco, many of them young men from Mali. Their tragedy, although not unique, illustrates the fate of the various pateras and cayucos that disappear without a trace in the Atlantic, as described in United Nations reports.
The Unexpected Reunion
At 1:40 p.m. on December 30, the lives of Abdoulaye, Bacary and the others intersected with those of the crew of a tourist catamaran 315 kilometers southwest of El Hierro.
It was the Knot Working catamaran from Soul Sail, a German company that organizes pleasure cruises from Europe to the Caribbean (among other places) at around 3,000 euros per head, almost the same amount that many young Africans pay for a place in a patera (UNODC report on the Atlantic Route 2022).
The catamaran alert reported a cayuco adrift with a dozen very weak people and three corpses (five more, it was later discovered). Salvament Marítim mobilized its helicopters in the Canary Islands to rescue them.
The Shipwreck of Technology
The survivors of cayuco 115 bis experienced a series of setbacks, starting with the failure of their GPS navigator in the first days of the crossing, when they lost the visual reference to return. In addition, the direct route to El Hierro became an ordeal.
With water and gasoline for only five days, their situation became desperate from December 20. The lack of drink and fuel, added to the currents and the wind that pushed them west, caused the death of 23 people in ten days.
Seven and Drift
Thirst was his worst enemy. Twenty-three people died of thirst, some thrown overboard by their fellow travelers while they still had strength. Others fell into the water and could not get back on board. Dehydration left a clear mark on the five bodies recovered on January 3.
With the uncertainty of when and where they ran out of gas, the cayuco’s drift was tracked in salvage records, revealing a 118-kilometer shift to the southwest in five days. The disoriented survivors even dropped a floating anchor to stem the drift.