Brussels.– Spain has become the first European Union member to ask for assistance from the bloc’s border security agency, known as Frontex, which plans to examine how it can help deal with the situation in Mauritania, where tens of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans are gathering to travel to the Canary Islands.

The request was announced Monday by Friso Roscam, the spokesman for the vice president of the European Commission responsible for justice, freedom and security.

He told a press conference here that the assistance provided by Frontex would mainly be of a technical nature, especially in coordinating maritime controls.

Roscam said the agency would also provide input on legal matters, such as determining who has authority in international waters.

The agency, which is based in Warsaw and went into operation on May 1, 2005, plans to provide a response "as soon as possible," Roscam said.

Europol, the European police agency, is carrying out a "risk analysis" based on the information available to identify areas in which the European Union can help deal with the situation, Roscam said.

The analysis will focus on migratory flows, how the migrants move around and the routes chosen to take them to the Canary Islands.

"We’re not dealing with a Spanish problem, it’s a European problem," Roscam said.

He noted that Mauritania was a transit country and the immigrants, most of them from Senegal and Mali, hoped to reach the Canaries and from there other parts of Europe.

Illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly opting for a sea route to the Canary Islands since Madrid tightened security last year around two Spanish enclaves in North Africa that were being used as a bridge into Europe.