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Bodies of 74 migrants wash ashore in Libya

Scores of bodies of African migrants wash ashore in Libya, in the western city of Zawiya on the Mediterranean Sea, according to a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent.

Deaths reach record levels along the Libya-Italy smuggling route

Red Crescent volunteers recover bodies washed ashore at the coast near Al Zawiya, Libya, on Monday. A torn rubber boat was found nearby, according to a Red Crescent spokesman. (Libyan Red Crescent/EPA)

Scores of bodies of African migrants washed ashore in Libya, in the western city of Zawiya on the Mediterranean Sea, a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent said on Tuesday.

The drownings — at least 74 bodies were found in Zawiya — are the latest tragedy at sea after migrant deaths rose to record levels along the Libya-Italy smuggling route over the past months.

The Red Crescent's spokesman Mohammed al-Misrati told The Associated Press that the bodies were found on Monday morning and that the Red Crescent workers retrieved them between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time. 

He said that a torn rubber boat was found nearby and that he expected more bodies to surface as such boats usually carry up to 120 people. Earlier, al-Misrati mistakenly told the AP that the bodies surfaced overnight.

The aid agency posted on its Twitter account photographs of dozens of bodies in white and black body bags, lined up along the shore. Al-Misrati said the local authorities would take the bodies to a cemetery in the capital of Tripoli that is allocated for unidentified persons.

Last week, Fabrice Leggeri, director of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, said the Libya-Italy smuggling route across the Mediterranean has seen record numbers of migrant drowning deaths in 2016.

Migrants and refugees are shown about 30 kilometres north of Sabratha, Libya on Feb. 3. Migrant deaths have risen to record levels along the Libya-Italy smuggling route across the Mediterranean. (Emilio Morenatti/The Associated Press)

Human trafficking rampant

According to Leggeri, the recorded migrant deaths along the central Mediterranean route stood at 4,579 last year, which still might be much less than the true loss of life. That's compared to 2,869 deaths in 2015 and 3,161 in 2014.

There is little sign the surge is abating, even during wintertime. There were 228 recorded deaths in January, by far the biggest monthly toll in recent years. Leggeri blamed the very small dinghies and such poor vessels for the high death rate.

In Libya, the turmoil engulfing this North African country has become a death trap for thousands of migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan African countries, seeking to escape poverty and find a better life in Europe.

Libya, divided with competing governments, is run by militias, many of which profit from the smuggling and human trafficking. Rights groups have documented migrants' horror journey which involves torture, rape, and forced labour inside Libya.

The country sank into lawlessness following the 2011 uprising that turned into a full-blown civil war that led to the toppling and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Since then, human trafficking has thrived amid Libya's chaos.

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