1 Apr 2009

Hundreds of African migrants feared drowned

6:37 am on 1 April 2009

More than 300 African suspected illegal migrants are feared to have drowned after their boats capsized off the coast of Libya.

Up to three vessels without lifeboats are believed to have sunk off Libya in heavy winds as they headed for Italy, the International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday.

A fourth boat in difficulty was towed to shore, IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said.

"It would seem that more than 300 people have disappeared at sea," Mr Chauzy said. "They were not at swimming distance from shore".

Tens of thousands of illegal migrants attempt to reach Europe by sea every year. Libya is a popular departure point.