ZWARA (Libya) • The bodies of at least 104 migrants have washed up on a beach in the western Libyan town of Zwara, the navy said yesterday, warning that the numbers could rise.
"The number of bodies retrieved Thursday evening was 104 but the toll is expected to rise since an average boat carries 115-125 passengers," Libyan navy spokesman Colonel Ayoub Qassem said.
An Agence France-Presse photographer who travelled to the beach said there were several bodies of women and children.
People smugglers have exploited the chaos gripping Libya - since the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi - to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
It is a lucrative business for the smugglers who cram migrants into boats that are small and unsafe for the perilous journey to Italy just 300km from Libya's shores.
Thousands of migrants try each year to cross, but many drown when their boats founder.
Colonel Qassem said migrant boats leaving from western Libya usually set off from the port cities of Sabratha and Zwara, with passengers who are mostly African or Arab, many of them from Morocco. The identities of those found on Thursday are not yet known.
Col Qassem said it was not clear if the victims were those from three boats that capsized last week off the Libyan shores.
Survivors and the United Nations had said at the time that almost 700 migrants who were on those boats had drowned.
Some 204,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe since January, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
Col Qassem criticised the failure of the international community to deal with the problem, saying it limits itself to "counting bodies and issuing statements".
The Zwara municipality also regretted what it called "the strange silence of all those in charge", including Libyan government officials and NGOs. A statement on its Facebook page said Zwara "lacks all the means necessary to deal with such a problem".