Two dead, five missing as migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

Migrants of African origin trying to flee to Europe are crammed on board of a small boat, as Tunisian coast guards prepare to transfer them onto their vessel, at sea between Tunisia and Italy, on August 10, 2023AFP

At least two Tunisians including a baby died when their Europe-bound boat sank Saturday off the North African country's southeastern shores, the coastguard said, adding five others were missing.

The vessel carrying 20 Tunisians went down at 2:00am (0100 GMT) 120 metres (395 feet) from the beach in Gabes, a statement said as search operations continue.

It said 13 passengers had been rescued.

"Two bodies have been recovered, one of a 20-year-old man and the other of an infant," said the statement.

Authorities in the city of Gabes have launched an investigation to "determine the circumstances of this tragedy", the coastguard added.

Tunisia is a major gateway for local and foreign migrants attempting perilous voyages in often rickety boats in the hopes of a better life in Europe.

More than 1,800 people have died this year in shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean migration route, the world's deadliest, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, which is located about 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, has emerged as a key migrant launchpad.

On Monday judicial officials reported the deaths of 11 migrants in a shipwreck off Sfax, with dozens more missing.