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Boat with 170 Africans on board sinks 17 migrants rescued off Libyan coast

TRIPOLI, Aug 23, (Agencies): A wooden boat with around 170 African migrants on board trying to reach Europe has sunk in rough seas off the Libyan coast, a spokesman for the Libyan navy said on Saturday. Migrants have been streaming out of North Africa in rickety boats in rising numbers for years. So far in 2014, the total number reaching Italian shores has passed 100,000, the Italian government said this week. “The coast guards have rescued 17 of the illegal migrants,” navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.

A search for the rest of the passengers was underway, he added. The boat sank late on Friday near Qarabouli, east of Tripoli, a common launchpad used by human traffickers smuggling people to Europe, Qassem said. Local coast guard official Mohammad Abdellatif told Reuters Television they had been alerted to the sinking by local fishermen at dawn on Saturday morning. Abdellatif said the coast guard in Qarabouli had no equipment and so is forced to borrow fishing vessels and tug boats to carry out their rescue missions. He said they had informed the hospital, ministry of health and the criminal investigations department of the accident and that all three had defused to collect the bodies.

All of the people rescued had been released as there was nowhere to detain them, he said. The Italian navy told Reuters they were not involved in the incident and had no further details. An AFP journalist reported seeing the body of a child who was nevertheless wearing a life-jacket. The coastguard official was unable to give any firm details of the nationalities of the victims or survivors, but added: “It seems that among them are Somalis and Eritreans.” People smugglers have been thriving in Libya, an oil-rich nation marred by unrest and political rivalries and where the interim government lacks the manpower and resources to monitor the coast properly.

On Thursday, Tunisian fishermen rescued 75 migrants who had been drifting at sea for five days after leaving Libya aboard an inflatable in an attempt to reach Italy. The migrants were in a state of extreme fatigue by the time they made landfall in Zarzis, in southern Tunisia, where emergency services took charge of them, an AFP correspondent reported.

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