A UN official described the shipwreck as “the worst Mediterranean tragedy” this year.
The International Rescue Committee said the tragedy was a stark reminder of the humanitarian crisis emerging out of Libya and of the urgent need for search and rescue missions to be resumed in the Mediterranean.
Ayoub Gassim, a spokesman for Libya’s coast guard, told The Associated Press that two boats carrying around 300 migrants capsized around 120km east of the capital, Tripoli. Around 137 migrants were rescued and returned to Libya, he said, and several bodies have been recovered.
Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, said 147 had been saved.
Asked about the latest boat sinking and deaths, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq expressed the world body’s concerns.
“We’ve made clear the need for all the countries in the region to work to ensure first and foremost that the lives of those people who have placed themselves in such great risk are protected,” he said.
After the uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees seeking a better life in Europe.
Traffickers and armed groups have exploited Libya’s chaos since his overthrow, and have been implicated in widespread abuses of migrants, including torture and abduction for ransom.