CAIRO — More than 100 migrants heading for Europe are feared dead in a shipwreck off Libya, independent rescue groups have said, in the latest loss of life as attempts to cross the Mediterranean increase during the warmer months.
The Libyan Coast Guard searched for the boat but could not find it because of limited resources, an official with the service said.
The humanitarian group SOS Méditerranée, which operates the rescue vessel Ocean Viking, said late Thursday that the capsized rubber boat, which was initially carrying around 130 people, had been spotted in the Mediterranean, northeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The vessel did not find any survivors, but aid workers could see at least 10 bodies near the wreck.
“We think of the lives that have been lost and of the families who might never have certainty as to what happened to their loved ones,” the group said in a statement.
The migrant traffic has raised questions among European Union countries and in Libya about who is responsible for saving those in peril at sea.
SOS Méditerranée said it expected that those missing had died, adding to a toll of 350 people who have drowned in the sea so far this year. It accused governments of failing to provide search and rescue operations.
In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed Libya’s longtime leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the war-torn country has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families onto ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route.
Eugenio Ambrosi, chief of staff for the International Organization for Migration, said in a tweet, “These are the human consequences of policies which fail to uphold international law and the most basic of humanitarian imperatives.”
AlarmPhone, which provides a crisis hotline for migrants in distress in the Mediterranean, said it had been in contact with the distressed boat for nearly 10 hours before it capsized.
A spokesman for the Libyan Coast Guard, Cmdr. Masoud Ibrahim Masoud, said that the service had searched the sea for more than 24 hours, adding, “the waves were very rough.”
Mr. Masoud said that the coast guard had received rescue alerts from two different rubber boats in distress to the east of Tripoli around noon on Wednesday. A patrol vessel was immediately dispatched and rescued 106 migrants, including women and children, who had been aboard one of the two boats.
Two bodies were also pulled out of the water near the capsized vessel. He said that the coast guard ship had eventually returned to port so that the rescued migrants could receive medical attention.
In the meantime, he said, the Libyan authorities asked three merchant ships and the Ocean Viking to look for the other missing boat, until the Libyan patrol vessel could rejoin them.
In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the Libyan Coast Guard and other local groups to stem such dangerous sea crossings. Rights groups, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuses.