TRIPOLI — A wooden boat with around 170 African migrants on board trying to reach Europe has sunk in rough seas off the Libyan coast, a spokesman for the Libyan navy said on Saturday. Migrants have been streaming out of North Africa in rickety boats in rising numbers for years. So far in 2014, the total number reaching Italian shores has passed 100,000, the Italian government said this week. "The coast guards have rescued 17 of the illegal migrants," navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem said. A search for the rest of the passengers was underway, he added.
The boat sank late on Friday near Qarabouli, east of Tripoli, a common launchpad used by human traffickers smuggling people to Europe, Qassem said. Local coast guard official Mohammad Abdellatif told Reuters Television they had been alerted to the sinking by local fishermen at dawn on Saturday morning. Abdellatif said the coast guard in Qarabouli had no equipment and so is forced to borrow fishing vessels and tug boats to carry out their rescue missions. All of the people rescued had been released as there was nowhere to detain them, he said.