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Migrants spark major search operation

Nine North African men were in police custody last night, exhausted but safe after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in a dinghy, landing in Blackstrap Cove and hiding for hours to evade a major search operation on the east side of the Rock.

The men, believed to be Moroccan economic migrants, reached Gibraltar on a small inflatable zodiac dinghy but were almost certainly trying to enter Spain clandestinely.

Police here launched a search operation early yesterday morning after being alerted to the boat beach on rocks between Catalan bay and Sandy Bay.

zodiac beached

Within minutes officers had detained three of the men and established they were migrants, ruling out security concerns.

But the others managed to scramble up onto the sand slopes above Catalan Bay, where they hid and avoided detection for most of the day.

They were finally located late yesterday afternoon after officers of the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Gibraltar Defence Police, HM Customs and the Borders and Coastguard Agency, as well as soldiers from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, spent the day scouring every inch of the coastline on the east side of the Rock.

police search 2 web

Search teams including dog patrols were deployed on the beaches, the rocky shoreline and roads above, and even inside Beachview Terraces estate.

The missing migrants were at last spotted above Catalan Bay and officers climbed up to coax them down, a precarious, risky task.

“It’s a lot easier to climb up those slopes than it is to get back down,” a police spokesman Inspector Paul Chipolina told the Chronicle.

“They were exhausted from their voyage across the Strait and from spending all day in the sun, but they were otherwise fine.”

The operation remains open but the RGP believes all the occupants of the boat have now been accounted for.

The migrants, aged between 21 and 35, were last night being interviewed and are likely to be charged with immigration offences.

In all likelihood, they will be deported in due course.

Library image of the Strait of Gibraltar. Pic by David Parody

Library image of the Strait of Gibraltar. Pic by David Parody

The Strait of Gibraltar, the narrowest sea crossing between Europe and Africa, is a hotspot for clandestine migration.

Every year, hundreds of migrants attempt the treacherous crossing in search of a better life.

But most aim to reach the Spanish coastline and it is rare for them to land in Gibraltar.

Earlier this week, Spanish maritime rescue services picked up 10 sub-Saharan men from a small dinghy in the Strait of Gibraltar, while another migrant drowned after being thrown from a jet ski 150m from shore.