June 18, 2018 / 11:32 PM / a month ago

Libya's coast guard recovers five bodies from migrant boat

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan coastguards said on Monday they had recovered the bodies of five migrants and picked 191 survivors off the coast west of the capital Tripoli.

Libya’s western coast is the main departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe by the sea, though the number of crossings has dropped sharply since last July.

The five dead migrants were brought back to port in Tripoli on Monday along with 115 survivors from various sub-Saharan African and Arab countries, coastguard officials said.

Their boat was intercepted off Mellitah on Sunday after being damaged by rough seas, according to Ayoub Qassem, a coastguard spokesman.

Another group of 76 migrants was intercepted on Sunday off Zawiya, just west of Tripoli.

Since last summer, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted under Italian pressure and Libya’s EU-backed coastguard has stepped up interceptions, returning more than 7,000 migrants to Libya so far this year.

Since January, some 10,760 migrants have crossed from Libya to Italy, more than 80 percent less than during the same period last year, according to statistics from Italy’s interior ministry.

Last week, crossings in the central Mediterranean were thrown into further uncertainty when Italy’s new government closed its ports to a rescue ship operated by humanitarian organisations that was loaded with more than 600 migrants.

It eventually docked in Spain.

Reporting by Hani Amara and Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Sandra Maler

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