Libyan group: At least 15 dead after migrant shipwreck

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — A spokesman for Libya’s Red Crescent said Friday that at least 15 bodies were recovered after a migrant shipwreck off the country’s western coast.

Tawfik Al Shukri said local authorities had informed the aid group of bodies on the shore. He said they were retrieved and transported to a hospital, where the remains would be examined to determine the cause of death.

Migrants regularly try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya in a desperate attempt to reach European shores.

In a video circulated online, the burned hull of the wrecked boat is seen lodged on coastal rocks with bodies strewn on it and nearby. The cause of the deaths was not immediately clear, nor was it apparent when the fire was startedl.

The shipwreck took place off the western Libyan city of Sabratha, a major launching point for the mainly African migrants making the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean.

Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in war-torn Libya, smuggling in migrants across the desert country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then typically packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and set off on risky sea voyages.

There were reports the boat had been the scene of a mass shooting. A local Libyan NGO, which focuses on migrant issues and calls itself the International Organization for Cooperation and Emergency Aid, said in a statement that the 15 dead had been killed by human smugglers who shot them and then set fire to the vessel.

The International Organization for Migration said in June that at least 150 migrants departing from Libya died in the first sixth months of 2022. An additional 565 were missing.

Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East amid internal strife. Torn by civil war since 2011, the oil-rich country is divided between rival governments, each backed by international patrons and multiple armed militias on the ground.

Many of those who have been intercepted and returned to Libya — including women and children — are held in government-run detention centers where they suffer from abuse, including torture, rape and extortion, according to rights groups.

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