Dozens of people died when their boat capsized off Libya last week, adding further tragedy to a migrant season in which more than 100 people are believed to have perished in the Mediterranean in the past two weeks.
Libyan officials said 36 migrants died and 42 are missing after a boat carrying 130 people capsized just off the Libyan coast, about 30 miles east of the capital Tripoli. A pregnant woman was among the dead.
Some 52 people were rescued, including migrants from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
A Libyan official said the hull of the boat had given way shortly after it left the beach on 6 May because of the crush of people on board.
The latest deaths came as Libya's interior minister warned that Tripoli might start helping migrants get to Europe if the European Union did not take steps to deal with the migration crisis. "I'm warning the world and Europe in particular – if they do not assume their responsibilities, Libya could facilitate the transit of this flood," said Salah Mazek.
In another incident, a Libyan coastguard report handed to the United Nations detailed a shipwreck located on 30 April off the Libyan coast with one Somali survivor aboard who reported that 40 fellow passengers had drowned. On 2 May, the Libyan coastguard reported that it had saved 80 people from a sinking vessel, including Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians. Four corpses were found, the report said.
Carlotta Sami, the southern European spokeswoman for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said yesterday that the UN had been informed of an incident on Friday concerning a boat in the Mediterranean carrying at least 40 Eritreans.
"We heard of the SOS from Eritreans in Italy, but the boat had no satellite phone and could not give its location," she said. "We reported it to the Italian and Maltese navies, who were aware of it."
Aid officials have suggested that traffickers may be forcing migrants in Libya to risk using ever more rickety boats, knowing that Italian navy patrols are ready to save them in international waters.
Father Mussie Zerai, a priest who works with migrants in Italy, said yesterday he had received information from relatives of survivors of a boat that sank last week in Libyan waters. "The sea was rough, the boat was overcrowded and there were more than 200 on board – many from Eritrea. They spoke of deaths but didn't quantify," he said.