Libya coastguard rescues 346 migrants

Tripoli (AFP) - The Libyan coastguard said it rescued 346 migrants on Tuesday, almost 100 of them women and children, crammed onto rubber boats and stranded off the country's coast.

Three boats were intercepted around 10 nautical miles off Garabulli and Ghot el-Rommane, east of Tripoli, said coastguard officer Mohamad Jannane, who took part in the operation.

He said the migrants, who had been trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, were shuttled in a three-hour operation to a naval base in Tripoli before being transferred to reception centres.

"The rescue operation was carried out between 1:00 am (2300 GMT, Monday) and 4:00 in the morning because our boats are small and they were overloaded," the officer said.

He said that 34 women and four children were among 230 migrants in two of the boats, while the third was carrying 116 migrants, among them 54 women and two children.

Libya has for years been a stepping stone for migrants -- mostly from sub-Saharan Africa but also Syria and other Middle Eastern countries -- seeking to travel to Europe.

People smugglers have taken advantage of the chaos in Libya since its 2011 revolution to step up their lucrative business.

In an upsurge of attempted crossings to Europe this week, the Italian coastguard said it had coordinated the rescue Monday of 1,151 migrants in 11 operations off the Libyan coast.

Separately, the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) said its ship Dignity 1 had saved 373 people, including 62 women and 10 children.

Those migrants were transferred to Italy.

More than 430,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean since January and almost 2,750 have died or gone missing, according to the International Organization of Migration.

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