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At least 25 refugees dead in shipwreck off Libya

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Refugees arrive at a naval base after they were rescued by Libya’s coastal guard in Tripoli, Libya, November 23, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

At least 25 people have drowned off Libya after a dinghy, possibly carrying some 150 refugees, ran into trouble, two rescue organizations say.

"Rubber dinghy sunk north of [the Libyan capital] Tripoli. At least 25 people died in the incident, exact numbers still unclear. Italian navy on the scene," the German charity Sea Watch said on Twitter on Saturday.

It added that it had been alerted to the disaster by the Italian coast guard, which said the bodies of eight people had been discovered, and 85 rescued from the sinking vessel so far.

The alarm was set off when surveillance aircraft on patrol for a European mission against refugee smuggling in the Mediterranean had spotted the partly-submerged boat some 40 miles off the Libyan coast, in international waters.

"The search continues for survivors," said the coast guard.

Italian navy and coast guard vessels were involved in the rescue.

"Shipwreck off the coast of Libya, east of Tripoli. Dozens of people missing who will die without a burial," the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms said on Twitter, adding that many refugees were in the water for hours before being saved.

The incident is believed to be the first shipwreck of 2018. According to the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders, 3,116 people died trying to cross from North Africa to Europe in 2017.

Libya is the main departure point for refugees trying to travel by boat to Europe. But numbers crossing to Italy have fallen sharply since July last year due to a drop in people smuggling and increased activity by Libya's coastguard.

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