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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
'Many drown' in Ecuador shipwreck
One of the nine survivors of the Ecuadorean shipwreck
The nine survivors are in relatively good health
More than 100 people are feared drowned after an Ecuadorean ship carrying illegal migrants sank off the coast of Colombia, local authorities have said.

The ship sailed from the northern coast of Ecuador last week.

Nine people, seven men and two women, were rescued by a fishing vessel after clinging to debris for several days.

Ecuadorean migrants often use the route across the Pacific Ocean to try to reach the United States.

The shipwreck is believed to have taken place more than 160km (100 miles) off the Colombian coast.

The vessel, which was only intended for 15 passengers but was reportedly carrying 113 people, was heading from Central America when it was hit by a wave and capsized.

'Coyotes'

The incident is believed to have taken place on Friday or Saturday last week, but was first reported on Tuesday.

"I was awake when the boat sank," said an unnamed man who was among the survivors.

"It wasn't such a big wave for you to think it would turn the boat over.

"I was on the deck - then it was just terrifying. Next thing I knew, we were holding on to a barrel."

Most passengers were trapped inside the ship's hold and could not resurface.

The survivors reportedly found a container with some drinkable water floating among the debris.

They said they held on to buoys and containers for about two days, before being rescued by an Ecuadorean fishing boat on Sunday.

Colombian navy vessels are still searching for victims.

Emigration from Ecuador has been on the rise in recent years.

Many people try to reach Central America by boat to then cross into the United States on foot.

They often pay traffickers thousands of dollars for the dangerous journey.

At least two drifting boats with large numbers of Ecuadorean migrants on board have been rescued over the past year.

Ecuadorean President Alfredo Palacio has vowed to crack down on people-smugglers, whom he called "coyotes".





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