- At least 37 suspected illegal migrants drowned when their open wooden boat capsised and their bodies were washed up on the coast of Gabon's capital Libreville today.
An official from Gabon's attorney general's office, has said the dead appeared to be migrants from other West African countries who were trying to reach relatively prosperous Gabon in the feeble boat that was found nearby.
The official reportedly said they have called on embassies of West African states in Gabon to help identify and repatriate bodies.
Gabon police investigating the incident have indicated that corpses found on Libreville's shore were all male, adding that a passport identified one of the dead as being from Ghana.
"It's the first time in 50 years that we've seen a human catastrophe like this," one Gabonese police officer said, adding it was the worst disaster involving migrants he could remember in Libreville.
The wooden boat found smashed on the rocks, not far from the bodies is said to be the kind often used by would-be migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa.
Bodies of illegal migrants who drown trying to reach Europe are reportedly often washed up on the West African coast.
Thousands of poor African job-seekers are said to frequently risk their lives each year trying to get to Spain's Canary Islands in a bid to seek a better life in Europe. Hundreds die in the attempt, human rights campaigners say.
Traffickers regularly cram 200 or 300 people into open wooden boats used across West Africa, powered by old motors and poor quality fuel.
Gabon's own relative prosperity, funded by oil, has also made it a favourite destination for illegal migrants from nearby countries.
With investment from former colonial ruler France, Gabon was one of first sub-Saharan African countries to exploit its crude oil reserves, which have made its 1.5 million people among the continent's richest on a per capita basis.
But wealth is far from evenly spread, and many people, particularly illegal immigrants, survive in poverty amid relative affluence of Libreville and other large towns.
Gabon's official population is less than one and a half million but interior ministry says there are at least 400,000 illegal immigrants in the country.
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