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TRIPOLI: At least 36 immigrants died and 42 are missing after a makeshift boat was wrecked off Libya’s coast, a naval spokesman said on Sunday.

Colonel Ayub Kassem said the accident took place on Tuesday.

“The boat sank four kilometres (two and a half miles) off Garabulli,” which lies 50 kilometres east of Tripoli, he said.

“We were able to save 52 people of various nationalities. Thirty-six bodies have been recovered so far, 24 of them today (Sunday).” A pregnant woman was among the dead, he added.

Kassem cited survivors as saying the boat had 130 people on board, including people from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.

He said the hull of the boat had given way shortly after it left the beach because of the crush of people on board.

Othman Belbeisi, the chief of mission in Libya of the International Organisation for Migration, on Sunday called for “rapid solutions to preserve the lives of immigrants”.

On Saturday, Libya’s interim interior minister told reporters that Tripoli could “facilitate” people seeking to reach Europe illegally unless Brussels helps it combat the problem.

“I’m warning the world and Europe in particular — if they do not assume their responsibilities, Libya could facilitate the transit of this flood” of immigrants towards Europe, Salah Mazek told a news conference.

A government statement on Sunday sought to play down his remarks, stressing Tripoli’s commitment to combat illegal immigration and “continue collaborating with all countries concerned, Italy in particular, to limit the influx of immigrants”.

Europe’s turn to pay: The statement said Libya respected international and bilateral treaties on illegal immigration.

Mazek had said on Saturday that Libya was “suffering” because thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were spreading disease, crime and drugs in the North African nation.

“Libya has paid the price. Now it’s Europe’s turn to pay,” Mazek added.

For years, Libya has been a springboard for hundreds of thousands of Africans seeking a better life in Europe.

Many cram into makeshift boats to attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Malta or the Italian island of Lampedusa off Sicily.—AFP