At least 20 women and two children are among 57 people who drowned, says International Organization for Migration, citing survivors brought to shore by fishermen and coast guard.

Birds fly off an abandoned wooden boat, seen from the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in the search and rescue zone off North African coast, in the Mediterranean Sea on July 26, 2021.
Birds fly off an abandoned wooden boat, seen from the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in the search and rescue zone off North African coast, in the Mediterranean Sea on July 26, 2021. (Reuters)

At least 57 irregular migrants have drowned in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. 

"A shipwreck off Libya claims at least 57 lives today after a boat capsized near (the port city of) Khums," Safa Msehli, spokesperson for the IOM, announced on Twitter on Monday. 

At least 20 women and two children were among those who drowned, Msehli said, citing the survivors brought to shore by fishermen and the coast guard. 

According to Msehli, the boat left the western coastal town of Khums on Sunday and there were at least 75 migrants on board.

Eighteen African migrants were rescued and returned to shore.

The survivors, who are from Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia, reported the vessel had stopped due to an engine problem, then capsized amid bad weather, Msehli said.

'Silence and inaction are inexcusable'

"Horrified by yet another painful loss of life off the Libyan coast," Federico Soda, the IOM's Libya mission chief said on Twitter. 

"At least 57 people drowned today in the latest tragedy... Silence and inaction are inexcusable."

Latest disaster in Mediterranean

The capsizing was the latest disaster in the Mediterranean Sea involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

There has been a spike in crossings and attempted crossings from Libya in recent months. 

Amnesty International has said that in the first six months of this year, more than 7,000 people intercepted at sea were forcibly returned to detention camps in Libya.

Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. 

The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Rights groups and officials at UN agencies that work with migrants and refugees have for years cited survivor testimony about systematic abuse in detention camps in Libya. 

These include forced labour, beatings, rapes and torture. The abuse often accompanies efforts to extort money from families before migrants are allowed to leave Libya on traffickers' boats.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies