At least 74 migrants died in a “devastating” shipwreck on Thursday off the Libyan coast, the United Nations said, adding that the coastguard and fishermen were searching for survivors.
The UN's International Organisation for Migration said it was the latest disaster in a “series of tragedies” involving at least eight other shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean since the start of October.
“Staff from the IOM have reported a devastating shipwreck which claimed the lives of at least 74 migrants today off the coast of Khoms,” the agency said in a statement.
“The boat was reported to be carrying over 120 people, among them women and children.
“Forty-seven survivors have been brought to shore by the coastguard and fishermen, and 31 bodies have been retrieved while the search for victims continues.” Khoms is a port city 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of the capital, Tripoli.
The IOM said that in the past two days, at least 19 other people, including two children, drowned after two boats capsized in the central Mediterranean.
“The mounting loss of life in the Mediterranean is a manifestation of the inability of states to take decisive action to redeploy much-needed, dedicated search and rescue capacity in the deadliest sea-crossing in the world,” said Federico Soda, the IOM's Libya mission chief.
“We have long called for a change in the evidently unworkable approach to Libya and the Mediterranean, including ending returns to the country and establishing a clear disembarkation mechanism followed by solidarity from other states.
“Thousands of vulnerable people continue to pay the price for inaction both at sea and on land.”
The IOM said that so far this year, at least 900 people had drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach European shores — some due to delays in rescue.
More than 11,000 others have been returned to Libya, it said, “putting them at risk of facing human rights violations, detention, abuse, trafficking and exploitation”.
The IOM said it had recorded a recent upsurge in departures from Libya, with some 1,900 being intercepted and returned, and more than 780 arrivals in Italy from Libya since the start of October.