Posted: 08/23/2014 
BOAT MIGRANTS


TRIPOLI, Aug 23 (Reuters) - A wooden boat carrying up to 200 migrants has sunk just one kilometer (half a mile) off the Libyan coast, the coast guard said on Saturday, and most passengers were feared drowned.

The local coast guard said it had no boats of its own and had to commandeer fishing vessels in a rescue attempt after fishermen raised the alarm on Saturday morning.

Migrants have been streaming out of North Africa in rickety boats in rising numbers for years. Many head for Italy, and so far in 2014, the total number reaching Italian shores has passed 100,000, the Italian government said this week.

Libya is a major departure point for this journey, and human traffickers are exploiting the political chaos and lack of security that has blighted the country since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in an uprising in 2011.

The small boat crammed with between 150-200 migrants sank late on Friday near Qarabouli, east of Tripoli, local coast guard official Mohammad Abdellatif told Reuters Television.

Local fishermen raised the alarm at dawn on Saturday morning and the coast guard managed to rescue 16 migrants who were still alive in the water, surrounded by bodies, Abdellatif said.

The boat had entirely disappeared when the coast guard arrived at the scene, around 1 km from the beach, he said.


STATE TURMOIL

The coast guard in Qarabouli has no equipment and so is forced to borrow fishing vessels and tug boats to carry out their rescue missions, he added.

All of those rescued were released as there was nowhere to detain them, Abdellatif said. He said he had informed the local hospital, the ministry of health and the criminal investigations department of the accident but that all three had refused to collect the bodies.

In recent weeks, Libya has seen the worst violence since the 2011 rebellion as rival factions battle each other for influence and control of the country's wealth. Foreign embassies and agencies have evacuated their staff and the entire parliament has decamped to the country's east.

State authority has crumbled and basic services are becoming increasingly more difficult to come by.

"The coast guard has no problem with searching for the missing illegal migrants, but the problem is who will receive them after finding them," Libya's navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem said,

"They have no locations to accept them and the immigration authorities are not helpful enough to receive them on time," he said.

The Italian navy told Reuters they were not involved in the incident and had no further details.

Italy is carrying out the bulk of patrols in the Mediterranean Sea aimed at preventing major tragedies involving migrants. More than 70,000 people have been rescued through the "Mare Nostrum" (Our Sea) mission of patrols which Italy began last October. (Additional reporting by Isla Binnie in Rome; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Ralph Boulton)

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Nearly 200 migrants are feared to have drowned after a boat sank less than a mile from the coast of Libya during an attempted crossing to mainland Europe.

The small vessel - which was crammed with men, women and children - sank late on Friday near Qarabouli, 35 miles east of the capital Tripoli, according to the local coast guard. 

It comes as Italy's maritime search and rescue team are being called upon to retrieve hundreds of migrants who are trying to flee North Africa via the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis.

Members of the Libyan coast guard retrieve a body from the water - one of 200 feared to have gone down with a small vessel that tried to cross to mainland Europe

Members of the Libyan coast guard retrieve a body from the water - one of 200 feared to have gone down with a small vessel that tried to cross to mainland Europe

A body is discovered in the water one mile off the coast of Libya after a vessel crammed with migrants sank 

A body is discovered in the water one mile off the coast of Libya after a vessel crammed with migrants sank 

A Libyan coastguard spokesman Abdellatif Mohammed Ibrahim said: 'A few miles off the coast, we found the remains of a wooden boat which had some 200 migrants on board.

'We managed to save 16 people and recovered 15 bodies, but the search continues for some 170 people who disappeared at sea.'

He added: 'It seems that among them are Somalis and Eritreans in addition to other nationalities. One of the fatalities was an 18-month-old child.'

Around 3,500 migrants and 19 corpses have been discovered since Friday during a spate of attempted journeys by traffickers trying to take advantage of calmer summer seas. 

The Italian ship Sirio recovered 18 corpses and 73 survivors from a raft, after a frigate picked up one corpse along with 1372 survivors on Friday night. 

The Mare Nostrum search and rescue mission began after a shipwreck near Italy's coast killed 366 people last October.

More than 200 passengers are feared to have drowned in a desperate attempt to make it to Europe 

More than 200 passengers are feared to have drowned in a desperate attempt to make it to Europe 

The mission costs around 9 million euros (£7.5 million) a month and has sparked fierce debate in Italy, which slipped back into recession in the second quarter after years of stagnation.

A breakdown of order in Libya since the toppling of Colonel Gaddafi has been exploited by human traffickers, pushing the number of arrivals into Italy since January past 100,000. 

At the frontier between Europe and Africa, Italy has long attracted seaborne migrants, but the number of arrivals this year is already above a previous record of just over 60,000 for all of 2011, when the Arab Spring uprisings fuelled migration.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called on the European Union to take responsibility for rescuing migrants by investing in border control agency Frontex, and on the United Nations to intervene in Libya to manage the flows of refugees.

A shoe belonging to an illegal immigrant floats on the water after the boat carrying men, women and children sank. The victims were among the hundreds trying to flee Libya on a daily basis

A shoe belonging to an illegal immigrant floats on the water after the boat carrying men, women and children sank. The victims were among the hundreds trying to flee Libya on a daily basis

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