A boat ferrying migrants capsized off Libya’s Mediterranean coast, killing at least 37 people, a local official said on Sunday. This is the second such fatal accident within days.
Fishermen later discovered 30 more bodies in the same area near Khoms, a town located 100km east of the capital, he said. Volunteers from the Red Crescent were trying to recover the dead but their efforts were hampered due to lack of sufficient boats.
On Thursday, another vessel carrying migrants headed for Italy from Libya capsized in waters off the Libyan town of Zuwara, killing up to 200 people.
Libya due to its lawless state has turned into a major transit route for migrants fleeing conflicts and poverty by boat. Smugglers exploit the country’s chaos to bring Syrians into Libya via Egypt or nationals of sub-Saharan countries via Niger, Sudan and Chad.
Reports have also emerged that the migrants pay thousands of dollars in fees for the land and sea passage, with smugglers often beating and torturing them to press for more money for the final part of the trip by sea in unseaworthy vessels.
Libya has already submitted a request to the European Union to help train and equip its navy which was severely destroyed during the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
The number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach the European shores has reached well over 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014, UNHCR said on Friday.
More than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, this number not including those feared drowned off Libya in the last 24 hours, the agency said. This number compares with 3,500 who either died or went missing in the Mediterranean in the whole of 2014.