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Scores missing in migrant crossing of Mediterranean, Italy says

Out of 107 migrants aboard boat that sank in poor weather, four were saved, eight bodies were found
Migrants often set out from chaotic Libya in creaky, over-crowded boats, hoping to reach Europe (AFP/file photo)

The Italian coastguard said on Saturday that almost a hundred people were missing after a boat with migrants sank off the Libyan coast.

"The bodies of eight people have been recovered. Four people have been saved, and they say 107 migrants were on board the boat in all," the agency's press office said.

Search operations were continuing after nightfall in poor weather and sea conditions, it said.

A French warship, patrolling under the EU's Frontex border operation, picked up the survivors and two merchant ships were heading for the area, located about 50km north of the Libyan coast.

A Frontex plane and an Italian naval helicopter also joined the operation.

On Friday, about 550 migrants were picked up from four inflatable dinghies by Italian coastguard vessels, an Italian naval ship, an NGO boat and a merchant vessel.

In recent years, Italy has been on the front line of migrants arriving across the Mediterranean and has been pushing for agreements with governments in North Africa to facilitate returns.

People-smugglers have exploited the chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi to traffic migrants in boats to Italy 300km away.

According to the Italian interior ministry, more than 180,000 migrants landed in Italy last year, an annual record.

The UN has said more than 5,000 people died in 2016 trying to cross the Mediterranean, most of them on the Libya-Italy route. 

In another incident, the bodies of six migrants were found washed up on beaches near Algeciras, the port on the southern tip of Spain near Gibraltar, the Spanish sea rescue service said on Saturday.

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