More than 300 migrants intercepted in boats off Libya

TRIPOLI, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The Libyan coastguard said 324 migrants were picked up on Monday trying to leave the North African country on board two rubber boats.

Libya's western coastline is the main departure point for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea to seek better lives. Most are from sub-Saharan Africa, though recently more Tunisians and Libyans have been trying to cross.

The migrants intercepted about seven miles off the western town of Zuwara on Monday included 35 women and 16 children, coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem said in a statement.

They were mostly from four sub-Saharan countries: Chad, Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast.

"There are some others from Tunisia, Pakistan and Morocco. There are also 32 persons including eight women and six children from Libya, and three families among them," 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 number of migrants crossing from Libya has dropped since July as Libyan factions and authorities - under pressure from Italy and the European Union - began to block departures, especially from the smuggling hub of Sabratha.

But they have continued from the shoreline east of the capital, Tripoli, and dozens are thought to have died after a boat sank off Zuwara earlier this month.

Zuwara was itself a major migrant smuggling hub until 2015, when there was a local backlash against smuggling after a boat thought to be carrying several hundred migrants sank.

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So far this year, just over 3,500 migrants have arrived in Italy from Libya, 62 percent fewer than during the same period last year, according to Italian interior ministry statistics.

The top three nationalities declared by migrants arriving in Italy are Eritrean, Tunisian and Pakistani, followed by Nigerian and Libyan. (Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Aidan Lewis and John Stonestreet)

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