Sep 15, 11:53 AM EDT

Dozens of migrants drown off Libyan coast

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CAIRO (AP) -- Two boats carrying dozens of migrants to Europe capsized near the Libyan capital on Monday, drowning at least 70 people, two coast guard officials said.

Coast guard spokesman Qassim Ayoub told The Associated Press that rescuers are retrieving dozens of bodies floating in the waves some 18 kilometers (11 miles) off the coast of Tripoli's Tajoura district. He added that 36 African migrants, including three women - one of them pregnant - were rescued.

Ali Sarti, a Libyan Coast Guard unit commander, said patrol boats rescued the migrants lying in "a broken and damaged boat in the middle of the sea" before dawn on Monday.

Ayoub said one of the boats was carrying at least 250 migrants. However, one of the 36 survivors told the AP that there were only 105 people on board. "There was a problem in the boat... Three women and one baby died," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity over concerns about his legal status.

There were no further details on the second boat accident.

Libya has grown increasingly lawless since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, making it a migration hub for sub-Saharan Africans seeking a better life. Scores die every year on the dangerous journey to Europe.

Refugee numbers have swelled as thousands of people flee conflicts in Syria, Iraq and across the Middle East and Africa, boarding unsafe smugglers' boats in Libya. Nearly 110,000 people have been rescued since January, but at least 1,889 others have died making the perilous crossing, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

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