CAIRO — A boat carrying at least 700 migrants has been intercepted off the eastern coast of Libya, the coast guard said. It was one of the largest interceptions in recent months of migrants seeking a better life in Europe via the war-torn North African country.
The coast guard said the boat was stopped on Friday off the Mediterranean town of Moura, 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of the eastern city of Benghazi.
He said in a statement that the migrants come from different nations and those who entered Libya illegally would be handed over to their countries of origin.
The statement did not provide further details.
The coast guard posted images on Facebook showing a large, crowded vessel with most of the people on board appearing to be young.
It was one of the largest interceptions in recent months of migrants sailing to Europe, a destination for thousands fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
In August last year, Italian military ships helped a boatload of 539 migrants off the southern island of Lampedusa. The ship was launched from the Libyan shores.
Libya has become in recent years the main transit point for immigrants seeking a better quality of life in Europe. The oil-rich country was thrown into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Human smugglers in recent years have profited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling migrants across the country’s long borders with six nations. The migrants are then herded into ill-equipped rubber dinghies and other vessels and embark on risky sea voyages. Authorities did not say what type of vessel was found over the weekend.
The International Organization for Migration has reported 1,522 migrants dead or missing in the Mediterranean this year. Overall, the IOM says 24,871 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean since 2014, with the true number believed to be even higher given the number of shipwrecks that are never reported.