November 11, 2016

A popular Gambian wrestler has drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the second high-profile athlete from the West African nation in recent weeks to die trying to get to Europe on a boat of migrants.

Ali Mbengu was one of the country's best-known wrestlers, said Gambia wrestling federation spokesman Matarr Saine.

''We got the terrible news from his manager announcing the death of Ali Mbengu. This is a big loss for the entire wrestling community,'' Saine told The Associated Press on Friday.

Fatim Jawara, a goalkeeper with the Gambia women's soccer team, died last month trying to reach Europe from Libya. Authorities say both athletes are believed to have drowned.

Saine said Mbengu was one of Gambia's highest paid wrestlers, and he couldn't explain ''why he should embark on this perilous journey.''

Wrestling is popular in Gambia and Mbengu was described as a talented and tough competitor by Alhaji Cham, a reporter who covered the sport in Gambia. Cham said Mbengu had a promising career ahead of him.

''I don't know what prompted him to take the back way to Europe,'' Cham said.

The U.N. refugee agency estimated at the end of last month that at least 3,740 migrants and refugees have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Gambia, a tiny nation on the west coast of Africa, is among the top 10 countries whose nationals have fled to Europe across the Mediterranean.

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