About 150 migrants are missing and another 145 were rescued after their wooden boat capsized off the coast of Khoms, a town east of the capital Tripoli, the International Organization for Migration said Thursday.
"The sinking took place off the coast of the city of Khoms," some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Tripoli, said Safa Msehli, IOM spokesperson in Libya.
Other migrants from the vessel, 145 of whom were rescued by the Libyan coastguard, reported that some 150 more people were missing after the boat capsized.
The ship left Libya from Khoms with about 300 people aboard, according to the first available accounts from survivors. The survivors were picked up by local fishermen and then returned to the coast by the Libyan coastguard, UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley said. If confirmed, the number of dead would be the highest for a shipwreck in the Mediterranean this year.
The turmoil engulfing the North African country has become a death trap for thousands of migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan African countries, seeking to escape poverty and find a better life in Europe. Traffickers and armed groups have exploited Libya's chaos since overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. Thousands of migrants who have been caught trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya have been returned to the North African country and put in detention centers. UNHCR and other U.N. agencies have repeatedly called for survivors not to be returned to Libya, a conflict zone where rescued migrants and refugees are routinely jailed in inhumane conditions.
The Mediterranean Sea continues to be a deadly route as six people had died every day while attempting to reach European shores in 2018. In its report titled "Desperate Journeys," the U.N. refugee agency said, "An estimated 2,275 people died or went missing crossing the Mediterranean in 2018, despite a major drop in the number of arrivals reaching European shores."