, GENEVA, Mar 31 – About 300 illegal immigrants are missing at sea after three boats sank in stormy weather off the Libyan coast, the International Organization for Migration told AFP Tuesday, citing diplomatic sources in Tripoli.
"Libyan authorities have confirmed the shipwrecks and our diplomatic sources in Tripoli are talking about 300 people missing," said spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy.
"It seems the three boats were overloaded and sank in storm-strength winds. A fourth boat in difficulty was towed to the coast," he added.
"There have been many boats carrying illegal migrants departing in the last 36 hours," said Jemini Pandya, a spokeswoman .
With 1,770 kilometres of coastline, Libya has become a popular destination country and transit point for immigrants from eastern and southern Africa heading for Europe.
On Monday, a Libyan interior ministry source said that an Italian tanker rescued 350 illegal migrants after their vessel ran into trouble.
A ship carrying illegal migrants bound for Europe also sank off the Libyan coast on Sunday, with 21 people drowning and an unknown number of people missing, the source added.
Twenty-three people "of African and Arab nationality" were saved by Libyan coastguards, added the source, cited in Tuesday’s edition of the private newspaper Oea.