170 migrants feared dead at sea off Libyan coast

A boat carrying 170 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa is feared lost at sea off the capital, Tripoli, Libyan coastguard says

Migrants Italy
Migrants Italy

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.

He said a boat carrying 170 asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa was feared lost at sea off the capital, Tripoli. "We are looking for 170 African passengers on a wooden boat that has foundered off the Guarakouzi area" some 60 kilometres east of Tripoli."

"A few miles off the coast, we found the remains of a wooden boat which had had some 200 migrants on board," he said.

"We managed to save 16 people and recovered 15 bodies, but the search continues for some 170 people who disappeared at sea," Abdel Latif Mohamed Ibrahim said.

He said the coastguard was lacking in resources, and had only one patrol boat to search for the missing people.

An AFP journalist reported seeing the body of a child who was nevertheless wearing a life-jacket.

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."

Following the 2013 Lampedusa migrant shipwreck, the Italian government decided to strengthen the national system for the patrolling of the Mediterranean sea by authorising the Mare Nostrum military and humanitarian operation to rescue migrants and arrest human traffickers.

Italy says the total of boat migrants who had arrived this year now stood at 101,480.

The operation patrolling the waters between Africa and Sicily began after 366 people drowned when their boat capsized just a mile from the Italian coast. That tragedy focused international attention on the desperate risks taken by many migrants who leave the shores of north Africa, mainly from chaotic Libya, in unseaworthy boats and die in their hundreds.

Over the past year, most of the migrants have been refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war and Eritrea’s harsh military service, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

The UNHCR estimated last month that around 800 boat migrants had died in the Mediterranean so far this year, compared with 600 in the whole of 2013 and 500 in 2012.

People smugglers have been thriving in Libya, an oil-rich nation marred by unrest and political rivalries and 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.

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.

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