(Adds details, background)
TRIPOLI Aug 24 More than 250 migrants may have
died when a boat sank a kilometre (half a mile) off the Libyan
coast, a coastguard official said on Sunday.
"We believe there are still more than 250 bodies trapped
underwater," coastguard official Mohammad Abdellatif told
Reuters. "When we went underwater we discovered that the boat is
a lot bigger than we thought."
The boat sank late on Friday east of the capital Tripoli.
Thousands of migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, have
crowded into rickety vessels in recent months in an effort to
reach Italian shores. Many boats have been wrecked.
The total number reaching Italian shores has passed 100,000
in 2014, the Italian government said this week.
Libya is a major departure point for this journey, and human
traffickers are exploiting the political chaos and lawlessness
that has blighted the country since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled
in an uprising in 2011.
Abdellatif said the coast guard had no resources for a
rescue operation. "Most of the bodies washed on the shores are
still there because we don't have any resources to move them,"
he said. "We contacted everyone, the health ministry and the Red
Cross, but no one came to help.
Libya is facing anarchy as the weak central government is
unable to control armed groups who helped oust Gaddafi but now
have turned their arms on themselves.
Ministries in Tripoli have been mostly closed since fighting
between two groups escalated last month as staff, trying to
escape rockets and street gun battles, only show up sporadically
(Reporting by Heba al-Shibani; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing
by Andrew Roche and Stephen Powell)