Thirty-one bodies recovered after migrant boat sinks off Libya

TRIPOLI, Nov 25 (Reuters) - At least 31 migrants died after their boat sank off Libya's western coast on Saturday and some 200 others were picked up by the coastguard to be brought back to port in Tripoli, officials said.

The migrants were on two boats off the coast near Garabulli, east of Tripoli, one of which had already sunk when the coastguard arrived at the scene, said Abu Ajala Amer Abdelbari, a coast guard commander.

"The boat had sunk and they were spread out in the sea, they were trying to swim towards the coast," he said. "There were about 60 people who we were able to save because they were clinging to the (remains of the) boat." Another 140 migrants were picked up from the second boat, he said.

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Experiencing a migrant ship on the Mediterranean
Migrants try to stay afloat after falling off their rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship in the central Mediterranean in international waters some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya, April 14, 2017. All 134 sub-Saharan migrants survived and were rescued by MOAS. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi 
A migrant child rests on the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix after being rescued from a wooden boat in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants fall off their rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship in the central Mediterranean in international waters some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya, April 14, 2017. All 134 sub-Saharan migrants survived and were rescued by MOAS. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants try to stay afloat after falling off their rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship in the central Mediterranean in international waters some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya, April 14, 2017. All 134 sub-Saharan migrants survived and were rescued by MOAS. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants on wooden boats and rubber dinghies await rescue by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Rescuers of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) rescue migrants from a rubber dinghy in the central Mediterranean in international waters some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya, April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A migrant child cries after being rescued by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) from a wooden boat in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants rest on the deck of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix after being rescued from a rubber dinghy in the central Mediterranean in international waters some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya, April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi 
A Libyan coast guard vessel (R) intercepts suspected migrant smugglers monitoring a rescue operation from afar in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A rubber dinghy is burnt and sunk after the migrants on board were rescued by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in the central Mediterranean in international waters some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya, April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A migrant hands a baby from a wooden boat to a rescuer of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) during a rescue operation in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi 
An unconscious migrant from one of several boats is brought to the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix by the Libyan Coast Guard in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Medical staff of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix tend to ill migrants in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants rest on the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix after bring rescued from a wooden boat in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants in a rubber dinghy hang on to ropes beneath the bow of the Panama-registered ship Tuna 1, after some migrants on another rubber dinghy drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants in a rubber dinghy fall into the sea alongside a rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station, as a migrant climbs to the anchor of the Panama-registered ship Tuna 1 and one hangs onto its bow, after some migrants on another rubber dinghy drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A rescued migrant climbs down from a Tunisian fishing vessel onto a rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) to be taken to the Dutch rescue ship Sea-Eye, after some migrants on a rubber dinghy drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURY A dead migrant lies in a rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), alongside the Dutch rescue ship Sea-Eye after some migrants drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A rescued migrant climbs down from a Tunisian fishing vessel onto a rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) to be taken to the Dutch rescue ship Sea-Eye, after some migrants on a rubber dinghy drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi 
A migrant reacts after being pulled out of the sea after falling off a rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in the central Mediterranean in international waters some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya, April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants rescued from a rubber dinghy are brought to the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix at dawn in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A migrant stands on the deck of Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix after bring rescued from a rubber dinghy at dawn in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURY A dead migrant in a life jacket floats on the sea surface after some migrants drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A Spanish military aircraft flies overhead as rescue NGOs Sea-Eye, Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Jugend Rettet Iuventa, and a Tunisian fishing boat carry out a joint rescue operation as some migrants drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Migrants rest on the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix after being rescued in the central Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, as the ship makes its way towards Italy, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A Somali migrant carries her 12-day-old baby on board a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) of the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) during a rescue operation from a wooden boat in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
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The dead, including a number of children, were brought back to Tripoli naval base where they were unloaded in white plastic body bags.

Libya is the main departure point for mostly African migrants trying to cross to Europe. Smugglers usually pack them into flimsy inflatable boats that often break down or sink.

Most migrants are picked up by international vessels and taken to Italy, where more than 115,000 have landed so far this year, although an increasing number are intercepted by Libya's European-backed coastguard and returned to the North African country.

Since July, there has been a sharp drop in crossings, though this week has seen a renewed surge in departures.

Nearly 3,000 migrants are known to have died or be missing after trying to cross to Europe by sea this year, the majority of them between Libya and Italy. The International Organization for Migration said on Friday that since 2000 the Mediterranean had been "by far the world's deadliest border" for migrants. (Reporting by Hani Amara; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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