At least 46 migrants died when their boat sank off Tunisia’s southern coast (Kerkennah island) and 67 others were rescued by the coast guard, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday. The rescue operation was ongoing, the ministry said in a statement. The migrants were of Tunisian and other nationalities.
Human traffickers increasingly use Tunisia as a launch pad for migrants heading to Europe as Libya’s coast guard, aided by armed groups, has tightened controls.
Security officials said the boat was packed with about 180 migrants, including 80 from other African countries.
Unemployed Tunisians and other Africans often try to depart in makeshift boats from Tunisia to Sicily in Italy.
Research and rescue operations, conducted by the National Guard and National Coast Guard units with the participation of a military aircraft and national army divers, are still on to find survivors and recover the victims’ bodies.
The Public Prosecutor in the Sfax Court of First Instance ordered on Sunday the initiation of a judicial investigation on the “formation of an agreement to illegally cross the maritime borders.”
The death toll is expected to increase over the hours as the boat was carrying nearly 200 people.