At least 22 would-be migrants attempting to reach the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte died when their boat sank off the coast of Madagascar over the weekend, according to maritime authorities.
Forty-seven people are reported to have been on board the boat which sank while headed towards the French territory of Mayotte, according to a statement from the Madagascar maritime authority APMF.
"Twenty-three of the passengers were able to be saved. Twenty-two bodies were found," the statement said, adding that the accident occurred on Saturday and that search-and-rescue operations were continuing for the two people who remained missing.
The disaster happened off the Ambanja district at the northern tip of Madagascar. The French territory of Mayotte lies 350 kilometres north of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
The navy, the police, customs officials and local fishermen are reported to be taking part in the rescue effort.
French efforts intensified
Since 2019, the French state has boostred efforts to prevent illegal migration, with naval patrols supported by spotter aircraft.
When he visited Mayotte in December, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin promised to strengthen security measures.
In 2021, more than 6,500 people were detained trying to enter Mayotte clandestinely, according to French authorities.
There are no reliable statistics on how many people have lost their lives in attempting such crossings.
A French senate report published in the early 2000s estimated that, at that time, around 1,000 people were dying each year.