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Hundreds lost at sea off Libya

AN overcrowded boat packed with migrants capsized in stormy seas off the coast of Libya, killing at least 21 and leaving 200 missing and feared dead four days after the accident, officials said yesterday.

The boat, which a Libyan police official said had a capacity of just 50, overturned on Friday in high winds with about 250 on board.

The vessel capsized in 15-degree-Celsius waters about 50 kilometers off the Libyan coast on the most heavily traveled route for illegal migrants trying to reach Italy, Laurence Hart, an official of The International Organization for Migration, told The Associated Press.

"It is hard to imagine that there are survivors among the missing by now," Hart said.

More than 20 people were rescued from the overturned boat and about 20 bodies were recovered on Sunday, Hart and a Libyan police official said. A second boat with about 350 migrants aboard was rescued safely in the same area on Sunday, the officials said.

Libyan television showed footage of the flimsy boat that was rescued, packed with people shoulder to shoulder. Most of the migrants appeared to be men from Africa, although women and children were also among the group. A man could be seen carrying a baby and helping a woman who could barely walk.

"The second boat has vanished, and only 21 were rescued, and those were the ones who were able to swim," said Libyan police spokesman Colonel Najy Abou Harous. "We found 21 other corpses. The rest are believed dead.

"The boat capacity is 40 to 50, and the smugglers packed it with hundreds. These are wooden fishing boats, not for sailing."

Libyan officials did not release information on the accident until yesterday. Libyan and Italian naval vessels as well as fishing boats all scoured the seas on Sunday for survivors although rescue efforts did not appear to be ongoing yesterday.

Harous said survivors told him the boat was in poor condition to begin with, and a hole may have caused it to sink. Both boats carried migrants from Africa and the Middle East, some of them Syrian Kurds, Hart said.

"The first boat was rescued and is back to Tripoli. All of them are alive and safe," Hart said. "The second boat, I believe 240 people are missing. Rescue was quick for the first boat because they were near an oil platform that notified the Libyan coastal guards who quickly rescued the migrants."

In Italy, port authority spokesman Captain Cosimo Nicastro said an Italian merchant ship, flanked by a Libyan vessel, rescued a boat carrying 350 people overnight between Saturday and Sunday.

The Italian ship, flanked by a Libyan military vessel, found the immigrant boat shortly after midnight about 50 miles off Tripoli. The ship towed the immigrant boat ashore, reaching the Tripoli port at around 3pm on Sunday, Nicastro said.

It was not immediately known where the boats sailed from in Libya.


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