Spain negotiates with Libya over rescued migrants

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MADRID, Oct 14 (Reuters) Spain is negotiating with Libya over the fate of 50 immigrants rescued by Spanish fishermen off the coast of the north African country, a Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman said today.

The fishermen pulled the immigrants, including children, from their sinking dinghies yesterday and are waiting for permission for them to disembark in the Libyan port of Tripoli, the owner of the boat told state radio.

He said conditions were worsening aboard the crowded vessel.

''It's a big boat, 22 metres, but it's for the crew and little more ... they're carrying just enough food for themselves for the time they were going to be away from home,'' said land-bound owner Pepin Lopez, who had earlier talked to his brother aboard the boat.

''They are all seasick because of the rough seas,'' he said, adding that the crew were exhausted and demoralised.

The immigrants include at least three children and five women, Spanish national radio said. The Foreign Ministry could not confirm these details, nor give the nationality of the migrants.

The Ministry spokesman said he expected Spain to reach a breakthrough with the Libyan authorities within a few hours.

Although the boat's crew are Spanish, it is sailing under a Portuguese flag, the ministry said.

Thousands of illegal immigrants attempt the journey from Africa to Spain's Canary Islands, Italy or Malta every year in rickety boats. Many die trying to reach Europe in search of work.

More than 30,000 illegal migrants landed on the Canary Islands last year -- six times more than in 2005.

However, European Union sea patrols have cut the number of migrants arriving at the islands by nearly 70 per cent this year so far, the EU's border agency Frontex has said.

REUTERS PD BST1902

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