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African exodus leaves 17 dead after blast on boat

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- At least 17 African migrants died trying to reach Spain after a gas bottle exploded on their boat, aid workers said yesterday, as European and African governments struggled to stem the exodus of illegal migration.

Migrants on board a fishing boat that left Senegal bound for Spain's Canary Islands had to throw the bodies of 11 fellow passengers overboard after they died from injuries sustained in the blast , a senior Red Crescent official in Mauritania said.

The boat, at sea for two weeks, was intercepted Wednesday by a naval patrol before transport to a northern Mauritanian port.

Ahmedou Ould Haye, head of the Red Crescent mission in the town, said that aside from the bodies thrown overboard, more were recovered from the boat. Several other people injured in the blast died later at the hospital .

Thousands of young migrants have been leaving West Africa's shores in rickety fishing boats . Many run out of food, fuel, and water and die on the journey . But enough succeed to encourage their peers to follow, calling from Europe to say they found unskilled work and are earning more than they could back home.

Some 15,000 illegal migrants have landed on the Canary Islands this year, double the number recorded last year. A further 10,000 have arrived at other Spanish ports, according to official figures.

The wave of illegal migration has prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity, with European Union members wrangling over who needs the most help . Mauritania and Senegal have intensified their coastal surveillance in return for greater aid spending but officials say resources are still stretched and critics say better policing is only part of the solution.

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