Almost 180 migrants rescued off Tunisia

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Migrants arrive at the port in the Tunisian town of Zarzis, some 50 kilometres west of the Libyan border, following their rescue by Tunisia's coastguard and navy after their vessel overturned off Libya, on April 13, 2015

Migrants arrive at the port in the Tunisian town of Zarzis, some 50 kilometres west of the Libyan border, following their rescue by Tunisia's coastguard and navy after their vessel overturned off Libya, on April 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Fethi Nasri)

Zarzis (Tunisia) (AFP) - Tunisia's coastguard and navy Monday rescued almost 180 African migrants from two boats which broke down as they headed from Libya to Italy, the Red Crescent and an AFP correspondent said.

The Red Crescent said the migrants -- 94 on one boat and 84 on the other -- sent out a distress call from off the coast of southeast Tunisia as they headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa.

A previous count had said 174 were rescued.

The 178 migrants from Africa were evacuated to the Tunisian port of Zarzis and provisionally lodged in a warehouse.

They were mostly from Somalia, Ghana, Gambia, Sudan and Niger, said Dr Riyadh Belhaj of the Zarzis Red Crescent which took them in, adding that all passengers on the two boats were rescued.

In Italy, coastguards said Monday they recovered nine bodies from the sea after a boat carrying more than 150 migrants sank off the Libyan coast.

Rescuers managed to save 144 people and were still searching for others after their vessel overturned 128 kilometres (80 miles) off Libya.

Late Sunday, Italian coastguards said they had rescued a total of 2,782 people over the weekend from the Mediterranean, with good weather prompting an increase in the number of migrant boats.

The precarious security situation in Libya has sparked a rise in boats setting out for Europe from its unpoliced ports carrying refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that at least 3,500 people died in 2014 out of more than 218,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean, making it the most deadly migrant route in the world.