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Rescue called off after migrant boat disaster

LIBYA has called off efforts to retrieve bodies of over 200 illegal migrants who drowned when their overcrowded boat capsized last week in stormy waters of the Mediterranean as they set off for a better life in Europe.

Laurence Hart, an official with the International Organization for Migration in Libya, said yesterday authorities stopped the rescue operation since chances were slim of finding more survivors from Friday's incident.

Only 20 survived when the wooden vessel with 257 people on board, mostly African migrants and including 70 women and two children - both of whom died ?? sunk only three hours off Libya.

Hart said aid workers heard survivors' accounts at the Twesha refugee center outside of Tripoli yesterday.

"Many had kidney problems from swallowing sea water because they spent eight hours in the sea," he said.

About 21 bodies had been found by Tuesday morning, and several more bodies washed ashore Tuesday night, near the ancient port city of Sebrata, some 80 kilometers west of Tripoli, Hart said.

Libyans were not releasing any official figures in what is believed to be the deadliest migrant ship accident between North Africa and Europe in recent memory.

Thousands of African, Asian and Middle Eastern migrants fleeing wars and poverty use Libya and other North African countries as launching pads for the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to southern Europe - often in rickety, overloaded boats.

Hundreds are believed to die on the journey each year. The route between Libya and an island off the coast of Italy is one of the most heavily traveled for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Another flimsy vessel with about 350 migrants, including women and children, was rescued about a day later in the same area where the fishing boat capsized. There were also unconfirmed reports that two more migrant boats managed to reach the shores of Italy and Malta, Hart said.


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