Tripoli – The Libyan coastguard announced that 35 migrants were lost at sea after their inflatable boat capsized off the coast of the North African country.
Seven children were among the missing, said eye witnesses.
Eighty-five migrants, including 18 women, were rescued with the help of fishermen who alerted the coastguard, said Issa al-Zarrouk, a coastguard official in Garabulli, 60 kilometers (40 miles) east of Tripoli.
Navy spokesman Ayoub Kacem said the boat sank six nautical miles northwest of Garabulli, and 10 fishing boats took part in the rescue.
The rescued migrants were from countries including Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, Kacem said.
Nigerian hairdresser Vivian Effoussa described watching, horrified as fellow passengers fell into the sea.
“The boat we entered was leaking,” said Effoussa, who attempted the crossing to Europe after struggling to support two children back home.
“All of a sudden… the water was (coming) inside. Everybody started shouting,” she said, speaking in English.
“Gradually, gradually, we see ourselves inside the sea. Everybody, we’re falling inside, dragging each other. They even pulled my hair, dragging me.”
“Really, I didn’t think the sea was big like this,” Effousa said, adding that, had she known, she would not have come.
The latest tragedy brings the migrant crisis in Libya back to the spotlight only three days after European Parliament Speaker Antonio Tajani said that it was necessary for Tripoli to take the same measures that Turkey took to stem the flow of migrants to European coasts.
He echoed similar statements that were issued by Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano at an agricultural ministerial conference that was hosted by Rome and attended by European representatives this week.
Alfano had said that Italy had dedicated 10 million euros the African development fund in order to bolster the protection of Libya’s southern borders.
Some 18 million euros were dedicated to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support the voluntary return of migrants in Libya back to their homeland.
Alfano hailed Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria for their efforts in raising funds for efforts to control the Libyan borders.
“We should not only control the sea, but the Libyan borders as well,” he stressed.
Human traffickers have exploited years of chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi to boost their lucrative but deadly trade.
Tens of thousands of migrants have resorted to paying smugglers to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to what they hope will be a better life in Europe.
Nearly 77,000 migrants have landed in Italy since January, up 15 percent on the same period in 2016.
Altogether, at least 2,247 people have died or are missing after trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year, the IOM says.