MADRID — Two people smugglers have been sentenced to nine years each in prison for the deaths of four Moroccan migrants who drowned after they were forced to jump out of a boat last year near the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa, prosecutors said Thursday.

The prosecutor’s office in Ceuta said the sentences were decided on without trial after a plea deal was reached with the two men.

The office said the pair — one from Ceuta and a Moroccan resident — picked up nine young men in a recreational boat in Morocco in January 2023 with the intention of getting them to Spanish territory illegally.

As winds grew stronger on approaching the port city of Ceuta, the smugglers forced the migrants to jump into the water and swim to shore. Five of them managed to do so but the others drowned. Their bodies were found days later.

The two people smugglers were each charged with four counts of negligent homicide and an offence against the rights of foreign nationals. Prior to the plea deal reached Wednesday, the prosecution had sought 32-year prison sentences. The two were ordered to pay 205,000 euros ($218,000) in compensation to each of the victims' families, prosecutors said.

The suspects were arrested in March 2023 following an investigation by Spanish Civil Guard police based on videos recorded by the migrants minutes before they jumped into the rough waters.

In another recent case, Spanish police arrested three people for the deaths last November of five migrants who were threatened with a machete and forced to jump off the boat they were traveling in with dozens of other migrants off the Spanish mainland's southern coast.

Most migrants trying to enter Ceuta or Melilla — Spain's other enclave in North Africa — from Morocco do so by trying to cross the huge border fences.

Tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan countries fleeing poverty, conflict and instability in West Africa try to reach Spain each year by boat. Most go in large open vessels to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, while others from Morocco, Algeria and Middle Eastern countries try to cross the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to mainland Spain. Several thousand die making the hazardous journey.

The Interior Ministry says 16,621 migrants arrived in Spain by boat between Jan. 1 and April 15, up by 11,681 in the same period last year. The vast majority arrived on the Canary Island route.

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