At least 97 people, including 15 women and five children, went missing on Thursday after their Europe-bound boat sank off the Libyan coast.
At least 97 people are feared to be missing after their Europe-bound boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea, a navy spokesperson said on Thursday.
General Ayoub Kassem said 23 people were rescued around 10 kilometres off the Libyan coast after authorities received a distress call. Fifteen women and five children are among those still missing.
The boat’s hull was completely destroyed and the survivors, all men, were found clinging to a floating device, he said.
Those who had disappeared were “probably dead” but bad weather had so far prevented the recovery of their bodies, Kassem added.
Six years since a revolution that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has become a key departure point for refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most of them board boats operated by people traffickers in the country’s west, heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300 kilometres away.
Smugglers use often rickety vessels to ferry thousands of refugees from the North African country to Europe each month. Mass drownings are common when the overloaded boats capsize or sink.
The German government on Thursday said it would support a ban on the export of boats from the European Union to Libya as part of measures to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
Since the beginning of this year, at least 590 people have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, the IOM said in late March, while more than 4,500 perished on the crossing in 2016 alone.
More than 24,000 refugees arrived in Italy from Libya during the first three months of the year, up from 18,000 in the same period last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.