At least 40 people are presumed missing or drowned after a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized on Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, UN officials said, reported Reuters.
Ayoub Gassim, a spokesman for Libya’s coast guard, said at least 65 migrants, mostly from Sudan, were rescued, while at least five bodies, including a including a woman and a child from Morocco, were recovered near the western town of Khoms, around 75 miles east of Tripoli. The three other men were from Morocco, Somalia, and Sudan. A rescue operation, carried by the Libyan Coast Guard and local fisherman, is underway.
The latest tragedy adds the total number of people who lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year to 900. Last month, up to 150 Europe-bound migrants were missing and feared drowned when two boats carrying about 300 people capsized off Libya. In January, 17 died or were missing off Libya and in May, about 65 drowned when their boat sank off Tunisia.
“If today’s tragic numbers are confirmed, the number of people drowned in the Mediterranean in 2019 will have reached close to 900,” said Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency.
Yaxley said it is estimated at least 40 are dead or missing, among them women and children, based on eyewitness accounts of the survivors.
The U.N.’s migration agency said around 859 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea as of Aug. 22. It added that 45,505 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, a 30 percent drop from 2018.
Libya became a major crossing point for African migrants and refugees heading to Europe especially after the overthrow and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the coastguard and Libyan forces to prevent people from making the sea journey to Europe.