At least 97 Libyan migrants are feared dead after their boat sank Thursday in the Mediterranean Sea, en route to Europe, Libyan authorities said.
A spokesman for the Libyan Coast Guard said authorities rescued 23 migrants a few kilometers off the Libyan coast after receiving a distress call from their sinking boat.
By the time the Coast Guard arrived, spokesman Ayoub Gassim said the boat, which was packed with African migrants, “completely collapsed.”
He said the survivors were all men who were found hanging onto a flotation device. The others were “probably dead,” he said.
Libya serves as a popular starting point for migrants, mostly from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, to try to reach Europe. Smugglers use dilapidated boats to take thousands of migrants on the long, dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.
Mass drownings like the one feared to have happened Thursday are becoming more common as traffickers pack as many migrants as possible onto rickety boats.
The International Organization for Migration reports that as of April 9, some 664 migrants have died on the Mediterranean, with 90 percent on the Libya-to-Italy route.