CAIRO — At least 150 people are believed to have drowned off western Libya after a fishing boat carrying migrants sank in the Mediterranean, Libyan and international relief officials said on Friday.
Witnesses said that the bodies of at least 40 people had been found trapped in the wreckage of the boat and that other victims had been seen drifting at sea. If confirmed, the death toll would be among the highest this summer for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.
The sinking occurred early in the evening on Thursday — the same day that authorities in Austria found the decomposing bodies of 71 people, presumed to be migrants, in the back of a truck abandoned alongside a highway.
Jamal Naji Zubia, the director of the foreign media office for the Tripoli-based government of Libya, said that the fishing boat had gone down off the port city of Zuwarah, in the far west of the country near the Tunisian border. Zuwarah is a frequently used departure point for migrants and refugees trying to make the Mediterranean crossing, often in packed fishing boats or rubber dinghies.
More than 300,000 people are estimated to have tried the crossing this year, and at least 2,500 have died or are missing, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr. Zubia said that at least 150 had died in the sinking on Thursday and that they had come from several countries.
Foued Gamoudi, a Tunisia-based coordinator for the medical relief group Doctors Without Borders, said that one of the group’s staff members saw the wreckage of the boat on the Libyan shore after the country’s coast guard officers towed it in from deep water. He said that 40 bodies were still inside the boat. Coast guard officers told Mr. Gamoudi’s organization that they had rescued 110 people but had “witnessed many bodies floating around in the sea,” Mr. Gamoudi said.
It was not immediately known how many people the boat was carrying when it foundered. Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, said that that such fishing boats typically set out with 300 to 400 people on board.
The fishing boat was apparently the second migrant-filled vessel to sink in the waters off Libya on Thursday. Citing conversations with Italian and Libyan coast guard officials, Ms. Sami said that a smaller boat, possibly a dinghy, had gone down in the morning. She said she did not have information about whether any migrants from the smaller boat had drowned.
Workers from the Libyan Red Crescent told Ms. Sami on Friday that they did not have enough body bags on hand for all the victims of the fishing-boat sinking, she said.