At least 90 migrants feared missing off Libyan coast
More than 90 migrants are feared missing after their boat sank off the coast of western Libya on Wednesday, a coastguard spokesman said.
Ayoub Qassem, a spokesman for the Libyan navy, on Thursday said coastguards were able to rescue 29 people about 26 miles off the shore east of Tripoli before one of the sides of the rubber boat was ripped and it started taking on water. Survivors said 126 people had been on board.
Libya is the main departure point for mostly African migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Smugglers arrange ill-equipped and overcrowded vessels that frequently break down or sink.
Qassem said the boat that sank on Wednesday had left at dawn from Garabulli, about 50km east of Tripoli.
"Because of overcrowding, one of the sides of the boat got torn and water leaked in," he said. "Ninety-seven illegal migrants are still missing or they have drowned."
The rate of recorded deaths in the Mediterranean has risen sharply this year, with more than 3,740 migrants drowning on their way to Europe. That nearly matches the toll for the whole of 2015.
The route between Libya and Italy has become the busiest crossing point after a deal between Turkey and the European Union in March largely closed off pathways to Greece.
Smugglers in Libya act with impunity, taking advantage of a security vacuum that developed amid the political chaos following the country's 2011 uprising.
They often send migrants with just enough fuel to reach international waters and be picked up by rescue vessels.
On Tuesday, aid group Doctors Without Borders found 25 drowned people submerged in water and fuel at the bottom of another rubber boat off Libya.