The passengers were all Tunisians aged 16 to 40, from the governorates of Medenine and Sfax, an interior ministry statement said, adding that the nine-metre craft "was sinking after taking on water."

Migrants being rescued while travelling on the Mediterranean sea on May 7, 2017
Migrants being rescued while travelling on the Mediterranean sea on May 7, 2017 (AA Archive)

Tunisia's coastguard has rescued 48 Tunisian migrants whose boat began sinking as they tried to reach Italy by sea, the interior ministry said Saturday.

A patrol spotted the vessel on Friday night off Jebeniana, 210 kilometres (130 miles) south of Tunis. 

The nine-metre (30-foot) craft "was sinking after taking on water", the ministry said in a statement.

The passengers were all Tunisians aged 16 to 40, from the governorates of Medenine and Sfax, it added.

Tunisians regularly try to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better future in Europe, but departures peaked last September. 

According to NGOs, the uptick reflected frustration among young people hard hit by unemployment.

In October, a collision between a migrant boat and a Tunisian military ship left at least 44 dead, in what Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called a "national disaster".

More than 8,400 migrants from North Africa have entered Europe by sea in 2018 and 404 others died in the Mediterranean trying to leave their countries, according to UN Migration Agency.

Since 2014 in the Mediterranean sea 15,524 migrants lost their lives while trying to reach European soil, according to the UN agency.

Source: AFP