Morocco probes use of speedboats for migrant smuggling

Moroccan official says authorities are investigating use of high power speedboats by smugglers to transport migrants which were until now used for trafficking drugs in Mediterranean.

RABAT - Moroccan authorities are probing the phenomenon of people smugglers using high power speedboats, as favoured by drug traffickers, to transport migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe, a top official said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Morocco's navy opened fire on a "go-fast" speedboat off the coast of the North African nation, killing one person onboard and wounding three others.

The authorities said they detained a Spanish citizen who was driving the boat.

Khalid Zerouali, head of immigration and border surveillance at the interior ministry, said that authorities were investigating an "emerging phenomenon" that has seen smugglers switch from inflatable dinghies.

"These powerful motor boats were until now used for trafficking of drugs in the Mediterranean," Zerouali said.

Zerouali said that footage posted on social media appeared to show traffickers offering to take people to Europe for free.

He said the smugglers could be seeking to lure victims onto the boats to take them hostage or that drug-runners might need the passengers to add weight and stabilise their vessels.

Morocco said this month it has foiled 54,000 bids so far in 2018 by illegal migrants to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Zerouali said the authorities had dismantled 80 smuggling networks this year, including 23 in August alone.