DAKAR/MADRID (Reuters) – Authorities in Senegal have disputed reports that 300 people travelling on three migrant boats from Senegal to Spain’s Canary Islands disappeared last week as “unfounded” and said hundreds had been rescued in Moroccan territorial waters.

But the migrant aid group that originally reported the missing boats, Walking Borders, said it believed those on the three boats were still missing.

Walking Borders on Sunday said two boats, one carrying about 65 people and the other with between 50 and 60 on board, had been missing for 15 days since they left Senegal for Spain.

A third boat left on June 27 with about 200 people aboard it said, adding that all three departed from Kafountine in southern Senegal and that the families of the missing it was speaking to had no new information about their whereabouts since.

Spain’s coastguard said on Monday it sent a rescue plane to look for the third boat.

But Senegal’s foreign ministry on Tuesday cast doubt on what it described as the publication on social networks of reports of the disappearance at sea of at least 300 Senegalese migrants who left Kafountine for the Canary Islands.

“The checks carried out show that this information is completely unfounded,” the ministry said in a statement. It said 260 of its citizens were rescued in Moroccan territorial waters between June 28 and July 9.

Senegalese and Moroccan authorities are ensuring that those rescued were taken care of and repatriated as soon as possible, it said.

Walking Borders in a statement on Wednesday said the ministry’s reports of rescues “do not correspond to any of the boats whose disappearance we have been warning about since the beginning of July.”

It said it would not speculate on the reasons for the Senegalese statement.

“Since the end of May there have been numerous boats leaving the coasts of Senegal, a situation that did not occur before,” it said.

It said 10 boats from Senegal, five from Mauritania and one from Gambia had arrived on the Canary Islands in that period.

The Atlantic migration route, typically used by sub-Saharan African migrants, is one of the world’s deadliest. At least 559 people died in 2022 in attempts to reach the Canary Islands, according to the U.N.’s International Organisation for Migration.

Data from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex shows at least 1,135 migrants originating from Senegal have arrived in the Canaries so far this year.

(Reporting by Joel Kouam; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Conor Humphries)

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