At least 31 migrants died after their boat sank off Libya’s western coast on Saturday and some 200 others were picked up by the coastguard to be brought back to port in Tripoli, officials said.
The migrants were on two boats off the coast near Garabulli, east of Tripoli, one of which had already sunk when the coastguard arrived at the scene, said Abu Ajala Amer Abdelbari, a coast guard commander.
“The boat had sunk and they were spread out in the sea, they were trying to swim towards the coast,” he said. “There were about 60 people who we were able to save because they were clinging to the (remains of the) boat.” Another 140 migrants were picked up from the second boat, he said.
The dead, including a number of children, were brought back to Tripoli naval base where they were unloaded in white plastic body bags.
Libya is the main departure point for mostly African migrants trying to cross to Europe. Smugglers usually pack them into flimsy inflatable boats that often break down or sink.
Most migrants are picked up by international vessels and taken to Italy, where more than 115,000 have landed so far this year, although an increasing number are intercepted by Libya’s European-backed coastguard and returned to the North African country.
Since July, there has been a sharp drop in crossings, though this week has seen a renewed surge in departures.
Nearly 3,000 migrants are known to have died or be missing after trying to cross to Europe by sea this year, the majority of them between Libya and Italy. The International Organization for Migration said on Friday that since 2000 the Mediterranean had been “by far the world’s deadliest border” for migrants.