TENERIFE, Spain – Spanish police and rescue vessels intercepted six boats carrying 456 illegal migrants off the coast of the Canary Island of Tenerife on Saturday, bringing the total number for the year to nearly 6,000, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said.
Authorities spotted and intercepted the vessels in three separate incidents.
Saturday's figures elevate the total number of illegal immigrant arrivals to the Canary Islands so far this year to 5,984, the Interior Ministry said.
The sixth boat was in poor condition so a rescue vessel took its passengers aboard, the spokeswoman said.
Thousands of people try to reach Europe through Spain each year, an increasing number of them setting off from Mauritania and Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.
For decades, boats of immigrants have set out from Morocco, sailing north across the Strait of Gibraltar to the Spanish mainland or westward to the Canary Islands.
Last year authorities caught 4,751 African migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands, while at least 1,000 more are believed to have died trying to make the crossing.
Those who are caught are kept in holding centers. Authorities have 40 days to repatriate or release them. The immigrants are either sent back to their country of origin or to the country from which they set sail, if Spain has a repatriation accord with it.
Many would-be immigrants destroy their identity papers in an effort to stop or slow their repatriation.