libya migrants .jpg
Photograph: EPA/STR

About 20 corpses have been spotted at sea following the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Libya, an official from a European Union naval mission in the Mediterranean said Thursday.

A Spanish navy vessel of the Eunavfor Med Sophia operation has picked up 77 people and is trying to recover "about 20 bodies," a press officer for the mission, Rino Gentile, told dpa.

Earlier, Gentile said about 100 migrants were on a wooden boat which went down near the Libyan coast.

Marco Di Milla, a spokesman for the Italian coastguard, confirmed news of the shipwreck, locating it about 55 kilometers off Libyan shores.

Noting that coastguard units had also rushed to the scene, Di Milla said the total number of rescued was 88, but did not confirm any deaths.

On Twitter, the coastguard said it had coordinated 16 rescue operations on Thursday, bringing more than 2,600 people to safety.

Italy is facing a surge in sea migrant arrivals.

Since Monday, Italian authorities have reported that almost 9,000 people have been plucked from the Mediterranean, whereas there were only 1,641 arrivals in the whole of last week, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The IOM also estimates that 1,370 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2016.

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