Libyan authorities have recovered at least 20 bodies off the coast of the capital, Tripoli, after a boat carrying up to 200 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa went missing at sea.
“We found 16 individuals alive, the rest are lost. We are investigating the rest. There were 20 bodies, found dead in the water,” Abdel Latif Mohamed Ibrahim, a member of the Libyan coast guard, said early on Saturday following the Friday incident.
Reports said at least 150 were still missing.
Libya, which is mired in unrest and political chaos, has been a launchpad for migrants seeking a better life in Europe and turn to people smugglers to get them across the Mediterranean.
Since the end of July, dozens of people who have set off on rickety boats from the Libyan coast have died at sea, and dozens more have gone missing, presumed drowned.
The coastguard official was unable to give any firm details of the nationalities of the victims or survivors, but added: “It seems that among them are Somalis and Eritreans.”
The coastguard said it had no boats of its own and had to commandeer fishing vessels in a rescue attempt after
fishermen raised the alarm on Saturday morning.
People smugglers have been thriving in Libya, an oil-rich nation marred by unrest where the interim government lacks the manpower and resources to monitor the coast properly.
On Thursday, Tunisian fishermen rescued 75 migrants who had been drifting at sea for five days after leaving Libya aboard an inflatable in an attempt to reach Italy.
The migrants were in a state of extreme fatigue by the time they made landfall in Zarzis, in southern Tunisia, where emergency services took charge of them, an AFP correspondent reported.
Earlier this month, Tunisian coastguards intercepted 90 African migrants whose makeshift boat heading from Libya for the Italian island of Lampedusa broke down off Zarzis.
In July more than 20 migrants drowned while dozens disappeared at sea when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast. Survivors said there had been 150 people on board.
In June, Italian sailors recovered the bodies of 10 migrants after their rubber dinghy sank off Libya, while dozens others were rescued.
EU border agency Frontex said earlier this month that the number of boat migrants arriving in Italy soared 500 percent in the first half of the year, already topping a 2011 record during the Arab Spring uprisings.