Libya’s coast guard recovered dozens of bodies of Europe-bound migrants who perished at sea as search operations continued Friday, a day after up to 150 people, including women and children, went missing and were feared drowned after their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in the Tripoli said up to 350 migrants were on board boats that capsized Thursday off the town of Khoms, around 75 miles east of Tripoli, in an incident described by a U.N. official as the “worst Mediterranean tragedy” of the year to date.
The migrants include nationals from Eritrea, Egypt, Sudan and Libya.
Libyan officials said more than 130 migrants have been rescued since Thursday, and at least a dozen were taken to a hospital in Khoms while the rest were transferred to different detention centers located near the front lines of conflict between rival Libyan factions.
One of the survivors, from Eritrea, said his vessel started to capsize after an hour of sailing. Most of the migrants on board were women, he said, and most of them drowned.
“All of them (who drowned) were ladies… only two girls rescued themselves,” he said.
Two other survivors, reached at a disembarking facility in Tripoli, told The Associated Press over the phone they had each paid between $200 and $400 to smugglers who promised they would reach Italy’s shores by sunset Thursday.
Ahmed al-Tayeb, a 32-year-old from Sudan, said he was on one of three boats that capsized an hour after setting off from Libya on Wednesday night.
Egyptian Mustafa Mahmoud, 26, said Libyan fishermen were first to come to their rescue. “I saw lots of bodies, dozens, in the water,” he said. “Most of them were children and women who were not able to swim.”
At least a dozen of the survivors were taken to a hospital in Khoms while the rest were transferred to different detention centers, including Tajoura, located near the front lines of the fighting between rival Libyan factions, the Libyan officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.