115 migrants rescued, 25 missing: Libya navy

Nearly 25,000 migrants have been pulled to safety and brought to Italy since the beginning of the year

The Libyan navy said it rescued 115 migrants Friday headed for Europe whose overloaded rubber boat was sinking off the coast near Tripoli, and that another 25 people were missing.

"We rescued 115 illegal immigrants, six of them women, all African nationals except for a Bangladeshi," navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem told AFP.

Qassem said the survivors told of 140 passengers on board the boat that had run into problems on Thursday night after setting off from a beach east of the capital.

"Our search for the missing was unsuccessful," he said.

The navy and coastguard had responded to a distress call from the migrants aboard the boat that was "taking on water and about to sink", Qassem said.

Italy's coastguard said 970 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast Thursday, as the numbers trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe continue to rise.

More than 13,400 people had already reached Italy so far this year -- an increase of 50 to 70 percent compared with 2016 and 2015.

According to the United Nations, more than 440 people have died or gone missing in January and February while crossing from Libya in the depths of winter.

Six years after the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya is still in chaos and the country has become a major launching pad for migrants seeking to enter Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in neighbouring Tunisia on Friday where she announced a new agreement with the North African country on tackling illegal migration.

Her talks in Tunis also covered ways to respond to the instability exploited by people smugglers in Libya.