At least 65 migrants drowned on Friday when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the Tunisian coast after they had left Libya hoping to reach Europe, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.
The state-run Tunis Afrique Presse agency gave a death toll of at least 70 people. It was one the deadliest shipwrecks involving migrants trying to reach Europe this year.
“This is a tragic and terrible reminder of the risks still faced by those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean,” UNHCR Special Envoy for the Mediterranean Vincent Cochetel said in a statement.
In the first four months of 2019, 164 people are known to have died on the route, a smaller number but higher death rate than in previous years, with one dying for every three who reach European shores, UNHCR said.
UNHCR said the sunken boat had taken to the sea on Thursday from neighboring Libya, where renewed warfare between rival factions has gripped the capital Tripoli in the past five weeks.
The Tunisian navy brought 16 survivors to the coast at Zarzis, where one was immediately taken to hospital and the others awaited permission to disembark, UNHCR said.
The Tunisian agency said the boat had sunk 40 miles off the coast of Sfax, south of the capital Tunis and that fishing boats had rescued the survivors.
Tunisia’s defense ministry said the boat had left from the Libyan port of Zouara aiming to reach Italy. Navy units have recovered only three bodies so far, it said in a statement.