TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Two boats carrying African migrants to Italy sank off Libya in separate incidents over the past two days, killing at least 21 people and leaving hundreds missing, Libyan officials said on Monday.
The bodies of the 21 were found after a rickety boat with 253 migrants went down off the coast of the North African country but the fate of the rest of the people was unknown, said the officials.
They said at least 23 people were rescued by Libyan coastguards when the second boat went down but 342 others were missing.
“The boat incidents took place in the past two days and search and rescue operations are continuing,” said one official, declining to be named.
Libya, a popular departure point for African migrants trying to reach Europe, signed a new accord with Italy in February to strengthen efforts to stem the flow of illegal migration to southern Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants from various African countries live in Libya, taking odd jobs until they earn enough money to pay smugglers for a place on a boat that will try to take them to Italy, officials say.
The dead and those rescued in the two incidents were from North and Sub-Saharan African countries, including Egypt, Libyan authorities said.
At least 10 Egyptians were among the dead, the Egyptian news agency Mena quoted an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official as saying.
“We have information that two more boats were drifting off Libya’s coast but we do not know the exact conditions and the number of the migrants on board,” said a Libyan official.
“We had information from survivors that at least one boat sailed from Sidi Belal on the outskirts of Tripoli on Sunday but we are not sure about the exact origins of the others.”
Writing by Lamine Ghanmi; Editing by Jon Boyle and Ralph Gowling