77 migrants rescued, 7 dead off Libyan coast

More than 50,000 migrants have made it to Italy this year while 6,350 have been turned back and over 1,440 have died trying to cross.

FILE: A migrant is rescued from the Mediterranean sea by a member of Proactiva Open Arms NGO north of Libya on 3 October 2016. Picture: AFP

TRIPOLI - 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.

"Seven bodies were recovered near the boat," said Tripoli coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassem.

"According to survivors they stayed for two days holding their boat (which became unseaworthy due to overloading) until they were rescued.

"Some of them are suffering from burns as a result of remaining in the sea and under the sun for a long time. They were given a medical treatment after they were taken on board a coast guard boat."

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 coast guard had fired at or over the migrants, or put them in danger.