About 20 migrants are missing in the Mediterranean Sea after a rescue operation that saved 27 others from a sinking boat, the Spanish coastguard said Wednesday.
"About 20 or 22 are missing according to an NGO which gave notice of a vessel that had left with 49 migrants from Morocco," a spokesperson for the coastguard told AFP.
A ferry travelling between Nador in northern Morocco and Motril in the south of Spain spotted the boat in trouble on Wednesday afternoon and rescued the 27 people on board, among them two women and a girl, the spokesperson said.
The rescuers "did not see anyone in the water" around the boat, the source added.
Helana Maleno of the migrant rights NGO Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders), asserted on Twitter that the missing people had died.
"Today, 22 people drowned. They were on the boat about which we raised the alert yesterday. They drowned because no one took the trouble to rescue them," tweeted Maleno.
Of the rescued migrants, six were evacuated by helicopter to Almeria in Spain for medical care, said the coastguard spokesperson, adding that Spanish rescuers were willing to help Morocco in the search for those missing.
Throughout the Mediterranean, 569 migrants have died or went missing since January, 173 of them while attempting to make it to Spain, according to the International Organization for Migration.
A week ago, Spain's coastguard said it had saved 49 migrants from an overcrowded boat adrift in the Mediterranean for nearly two days.