About 150 migrants are feared drowned after the boats they were travelling in capsized off Libya’s coast in the Mediterranean Sea, according to aid agencies and officials.
Ayoub Qasim, a spokesman for Libya’s coastguard, told The Associated Press that two boats carrying around 300 people sank around 120km east of the capital, Tripoli, before adding that 134 others were rescued.
However, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a Twitter post on Thursday that more than 150 people were feared drowned while 145 were rescued and returned to Libya after the incident.
Charlie Yaxley, spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), said the survivors were picked up by local fishermen and then taken back to shore by the Libyan coastguard.
“We estimate that 150 migrants are potentially missing and died at sea,” he said. “The dead include women and children.”
“The worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred,” Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said.
Qasim told AFP news agency that most of the rescued from the sea were from Ethiopia while others were Palestinians and Sudanese.
Libya is one of the main departure points for migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East and Africa and attempting to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean.
Nearly 700 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the IOM, almost half as many as the 1,425 registered in 2018.