At least 35 people presumed dead after boat capsizes off Libya’s coast

At least 35 people are presumed dead after a boat capsized off the Libyan coast, the United Nations migration agency said on Saturday.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the boat sank off the western Libyan city of Sabratha, a major launching point for people from Africa who attempt to make the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean.

IOM said the bodies of six people were retrieved from the sea while 29 others were missing and presumed dead. It was not immediately clear what caused the wooden boat to capsize on Friday.

“The continued loss of life in the Mediterranean must not be normalised, human lives are the cost of inaction,” the IOM tweeted.

“Dedicated search and rescue capacity and a safe disembarkation mechanism are urgently needed to prevent further deaths and suffering.”

The deaths on Friday were the latest to involve migrants departing from North Africa to seek a better life in Europe.

In the past week alone, at least 53 people were reported dead or presumed dead off the Libyan coast, according to IOM.

Earlier this month, more than 90 people in an overcrowded boat drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, days after they left Libya, according to the Doctors Without Borders aid group.

Libya has become a major transit route for migrants trying to reach Europe by sea since chaos erupted in the North African country after the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

For years, the UN and rights groups have repeatedly warned that migrants in Libya risk torture, sexual abuse and human trafficking.

Human traffickers in recent years have benefitted from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in people across the oil-rich country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then typically packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and set off on risky sea voyages.

Investigators commissioned by the UN’s human rights body found evidence of possible crimes against humanity committed in Libya against migrants who were detained in government-run prisons, and abused at the hands of human traffickers.

At least 476 people died along the Central Mediterranean route between January 1 and April 11, according to the UN agency.