TRIPOLI: Nine migrants trying to reach Europe have drowned off Libya and hundreds more been rescued, the Red Crescent said on Sunday amid fears of an increase in crossing attempts as the route from Turkey closes.

Leaders from six EU nations led by Britain held talks in Brussels on Friday on how to tackle the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya after a European naval task force plucked more than 3,100 from the water in just three days.

The nine who died were among several hundred migrants who were discovered aboard dilapidated boats off the port of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, on Saturday, Libyan Red Crescent spokesman Malek Mersit said.

A total of 586 migrants were rescued, said Colonel Ayoub Qassem, spokesman for the navy of a Tripoli administration that has disputed power with Libya’s internationally recognised government since 2014.

They included 11 children and 60 women, and were mainly Bangladeshis and Sudanese, he said.

The drownings came just days after four migrants were killed in a boat fire off Libya and another 187 rescued.

European leaders fear that a deal with Turkey to tackle the EU’s worst ever migrant crisis will spark an acceleration in the already large number of crossing attempts from Libya.

Around 330,000 have landed in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014.

The lawlessness that has reigned in the North African nation since the Nato-backed overthrow of veteran dictator Moamer Qadhafi in 2011 has made it a favoured jumping-off point.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2016