MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Fifteen Africans died while trying to reach Spain's southern coast in a small, overcrowded boat, Spanish officials told CNN on Thursday.
Thousands of African migrants risk their lives trying to reach mainland Europe in small, overcrowded boats.
Rescue teams located the craft late Wednesday off the coast of Almeria province and helped it ashore. Aboard were 33 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and a dead woman.
They told authorities that 14 others, including nine young children, had died en route and were dropped overboard, officials told CNN.
The survivors included men, women and a months-old baby.It was the second incident in a week involving African migrants.
Authorities said a ship overturned off the coast of Motril, killing 14 people -- 23 others were rescued.
Spain is the preferred route to Europe for many Africans. Hopeful immigrants typically pay hundreds of dollars to illegal smugglers for a seat on a small boat.
The number of attempted crossings usually increases during the summer months when the seas are calmer, Paco Gil, government spokesman in Seville told CNN.
The Ministry of Interior said illegal crossings by boat from Africa declined 54 percent in 2007, from a year earlier. A total of 18,000 people were tallied.
The decline is due to increased sea patrols off West Africa, along with increased repatriations, officials said. More than 56,000 illegal immigrants were returned to their native countries last year -- a six percent increase compared with 2006.
Officials hope the large number of repatriated immigrants will send a message that the costly and perilous crossing could result in nothing more than a trip back home.
Immigrants from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa make up 10 percent of Spain's population of 45 million. Morocco and Romania are the leading sources, with more than 500,000 immigrants from each nation. Ecuador has sent more than 400,000.
The total number of immigrants to Spain from sub-Saharan African countries is far less, but their plight on the boats has sparked a great deal of media attention.