Some 40 migrants, including children, were feared drowned after their inflatable boat sank off the Libyan coast. Tens of thousands of desperate people continue to risk their lives for a chance at a better life in Europe.
The rubber boat went down six nautical miles (11 kilometers) off the coast of Libya, navy spokesman Ayoub Kacem said Saturday.
Close to 70 people were rescued, two days after their vessels ran into trouble, Kacem added.
The rescued migrants came from several African countries, including Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal.
The flimsy rubber boat had a homemade wooden floor and was packed with people, making it a recipe for disaster, said local coast guard official Muammar Mohamed Milad.
"Due to the heavy load on the rubber boat, the wooden base got broken and it started sinking," Milad said.
"According to the survivors about 40 others are missing, including seven children," he said. The body of one woman had already been recovered.
Water, water, everywhere
Vivian Effoussa, a hairdresser from Nigeria, described her feelings of horror as fellow passengers fell into the sea.
"The boat we entered was leaking," said Effoussa, who attempted the crossing to Europe after struggling to support two children back home.
"All of a sudden ... the water was [coming] inside. Everybody started shouting," she said, speaking in English.
Garabulli has become a popular launching site for smugglers packing migrants into boats bound for Italy. The 2011 uprising that toppled Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has been a boon for traffickers.
Most boats make it to international waters where they are picked up by ships and taken to Italy, but some are intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, or break down or sink in Libyan waters.
The vast majority of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea use the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy.
Italy has been overwhelmed as nearly 77,000 migrants have landed on its shores since January, up 15 percent on the same period in 2016.
Altogether, at least 2,247 people have died or are missing after trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year, the International Organization for Migration said.
bik/jlw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)