TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Nearly 80 migrants were rescued off Libya’s coast after clinging to their sinking boat for two days, though the bodies of seven people who did not survive were also recovered, officials said.
The 77 migrants, including a woman and one child, were rescued on Thursday off the coastal city of Zawiya in western Libya, Libyan coastguard and International Organization for Migration (IOM) officials said.
The boat became unseaworthy due to overloading, said Tripoli coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassem.
“Some of them are suffering from burns as a result of remaining in the sea and under the sun for a long time,” Qassem said. They were given a medical treatment after they were taken on board a coast guard boat.”
The Libyan coastguard on Friday intercepted a further 562 sub-Saharan African migrants in a wooden boat off the coast of Sabratha, to the west of Zawiya. Some 2,300 migrants were pulled from rubber and wooden boats in international waters between Libya and Italy on Thursday, the Italian coastguard said.
The vast majority of migrants attempting to reach Europe by boat try to cross from Libya to Italy. Smugglers send them out in flimsy boats with little fuel, and most are picked up by international vessels after leaving Libyan waters.
More than 50,000 have made it to Italy so far this year, and numbers have surged over the past 10 days. Nearly 6,350 have been intercepted and turned back by the Libyan coastguard in 2017, and over 1,440 have died trying to cross, according to the IOM. At least 34 migrants, many of them young children, drowned on Wednesday.
As non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have boosted rescue operations in the Mediterranean they have repeatedly clashed with Libya’s coastguard.
On Tuesday, several NGOs said the Libyan coastguard had boarded a migrant boat, robbing the migrants and firing shots into the air. More than 60 people fell into the water in the ensuing panic, though no one was hurt, they said.
Qassem denied that the coastguard had fired at or over the migrants, or put them in danger.
Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker