Libya is a main departure point for migrants fleeing wars and poverty trying to reach European countries, though crossings have dropped sharply since last July due to a more active coastguard supported by the European Union.
“The illegal migrants were on board two big rubber boats,” Qassem said. “The engines of the two boats stopped working in the middle of sea.”
He later said the coastguard had also recovered three bodies and rescued 142 illegal migrants 25 miles off Tripoli’s eastern Qarabulli town after their boat got torn in the middle of sea.
Two migrants were being treated in a hospital, he said.
On Wednesday, one body was recovered and a group of 82 migrants were rescued off Tripoli’s eastern Tajoura suburb, he also said.
Most migrants try to head across the Mediterranean towards Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.
However, earlier this month, Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister Matteo Salvini vowed to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving one ship stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try on Sunday to persuade other EU leaders to agree a common policy on migrants although her chances of winning support from all 28 member states are slim