Migrants are seen in a rubber dinghy being rescued by Libyan coast guards in the Mediterranean Sea (Reuters)
Sixty-three migrants are missing after the inflatable boat they were on sunk off the coast of Libya, a spokesman for the country's navy told AFP, citing eyewitness accounts from survivors.
General Ayoub Kacem said that 41 migrants wearing life jackets were rescued. According to the survivors, there were 104 people on board the vessel, which sank off Garaboulli, east of Tripoli.
In addition to the 41 people rescued, a Libyan coastguard boat returned to Tripoli Monday with another 235 migrants, including 54 infants and 29 women, rescued in two other operations in the same area.
The boat's return to shore was delayed 24 hours due to a breakdown, Kacem said.
Including this most recent shipwreck, some 170 migrants have gone missing in the Mediterranean between Friday and Sunday.
On Friday, three babies died off the coast of Libya while 100 people remained missing in another Mediterranean shipwreck.
Just 16 were rescued, all young men, while the missing included two babies and three children under the age of 12.
Libya is a key transit point for thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty trying to reach European shores.
Hundreds die every year crossing the Mediterranean in dangerous conditions trying to reach Italy, with traffickers taking advantage of political instability in the North African country by putting thousands onto flimsy boats from Libyan shores.
More than 1,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year sailing from Libya to Europe, with a rush in the past few days to beat an anticipated crackdown by the European Union, the International Organization for Migration said late on Sunday.
READ MORE ►
“There is an alarming increase in deaths at sea off Libya's coast,” IOM's Libya chief of mission Othman Belbeisi said in a statement. “Smugglers are exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe.”
The flow of migrants has abated since a peak in 2015, with the number attempting the dangerous sea crossing from North Africa falling to tens of thousands from hundreds of thousands. The other main route, from Turkey to Greece, used by more than a million people in 2015, was largely shut two years ago in a Turkish-EU deal.
IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle said the surge in recent days may be due to factors including weather and the end of Ramadan.
"But also there is a recognition I think worldwide that the European Union is starting to manage the process better so maybe they equally are trying to profit while they can. Smugglers will always put profit before safety.”