A man looks towards the sea in Nouakchott , Mauritania. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

Assan Ndure, a survivor of the capsized migrant boat off the coast of Mauritania, speaks exclusively to Gambiana about the tragic journey that claimed the lives of over 63 Gambians including women and children.

Ndure, 25, a fisherman from Barra, gives a detailed account of the journey, the moment before the boat capsized after it was hit by a huge wave and the struggle to survive one of the deadliest migrant tragedy of this year.  

“I’m a native of Barra. I was working as a fisherman before I decided to try my luck with the ‘backway’ journey. I was in the boat that capsized,’’ said Assan Ndure who looks visibly traumatised by his experience and had a cut in his lips. He said the cuts happened during the struggle to escape the capsized boat.  

According to him the boat departed Barra on Wednesday, November 27, after the people smugglers had reached their passenger target.

“Each of us paid D30, 000 for the journey. The money was paid to one Ousman (people smuggler) but I don’t know his surname and he is a Gambian. He is among the leaders who were facilitating our departure,’’ he said.

Assan Ndure said the boat which is a bigger fishing boat was packed with lots of young Gambian Senegalese migrants. He said women and children were among the passengers.

There was euphoria and anxiety. Despite the huge risk everyone hunkered down in the crammed boat that had more than 150 passengers. There were no life jackets and not much food and water to last the journey. The lure of a better life in the shores of Europe just over the distance horizon in the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean outweighed any risk associated with the journey.

“We left here (Barra) on the afternoon of Wednesday November 27, and the accident happened the following Wednesday, December 4,” Ndure said.

He said the boat sailed leaving the sunny shores of Barra behind. The passengers prayed, hopeful in the possibilities of different lives far removed from the poverty and misery that have driven them into the hands of the people smugglers who sell dreams of better living standards in Europe.

On day one of their journey the mood was upbeat something of a festival environment. Friends chatted, joked as the red glowing evening sun set in the distance. Night beckoned with little sprinkles of lights from distance ships. The moon overhead lit the dark black vast ocean expanse.  The waves look large as they rise and fall. They hit the sides of the boat. Spittle of sea water sprayed tired faces. The engine roared.

As the days passed the reality eventually dawned on those on the boat. Spain’s Canary Island and all the dreams it holds seemed far and unreachable. Food, water and fuel was running out. There was little conversation among the passengers. The silence in the boat is intermittently interrupted by the captains consulting each other on the their location.   

The captain then decided to look for the nearest shores to unload his desperate and frightened passengers.  

“We were in the ocean for eight days without proper compass. We nearly reached Spain but eventually our  boat lot signal and missed the direction. We then started facing difficulties. Our food was finish and we were running-out of fuel,” he said.

Ndure said the boat drifted on the Atlantic Ocean without any sense of direction. They spotted the shores in the distance horizon. It was the northern Mauritania coastal town of Nouadhibou.

“The boat captain suggested that we needed to land and we had no other option but to land at the edge of Mauritanian shores.

“We came across other vessels who told us that we were going the wrong direction and if we were caught (by the Mauritanian authorities)  they will lock us up for five years in prison or fine us one million ouguiya (local currency),’’ he said.

According to Ndure, despite the threats the captain decided to head for the Mauritania shores. Ndure said due to the lack of fuel, the boat was turning slowly as it headed for the shores. He said at that moment a huge wave suddenly hit the boat forcing it to capsize.

“It was on Wednesday morning, when the boat capsized. We were all thrown in the water  by the violent waves and the boat covered us. Some of us managed to swim out and those who couldn’t swim died on the spot. I saw many of them drowning but at moment I couldn’t do anything because I was also battling to save my own life,” he recounted as he wiped tears from his eyes.   

“It is only God who saved my life. Being able to swim didn’t get me out of the water. I swam very hard to get to the shores. It was some few metres away,  I cannot estimate it by head for now but the way the wave hit our boat it was serious. The wave was powerful.

“A huge wave hit the bow of the boat and the violent rocking of the boat forced us to the middle of the boat that’s the time the water entered the boat. What I remembered, we were 196 people inside the boat, this included some Senegalese but the vast majority were Gambians,’’ he said.

To be continued.

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