TUNIS   -   A boat carrying scores of refugees and migrants has capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Tunisia, killing at least 50 people, according to the United Nations migration agency.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) called Friday’s incident one of the deadliest refugee boat sinkings this year.  “Another tragedy in the Mediterranean,” the organisation said in a Twitter post. Sixteen people survived the sinking, the agency said. Only four bodies have been recovered so far and search operations were ongoing, it said.

Another tragedy in the #Mediterranean: @UNmigration’s office in Tunisia reports that at least 50 people have died off the coast of Kerkennah after a boat from #Libya capsized. There are only 16 survivors.#MissingMigrants

Update: IOM Tunisia reports just 4 bodies have been recovered so far in the ongoing #SAR operations. The boat is thought to have left from Zuwara, #Libya, according to the Tunisian Ministry of Defense.

According to reports by Tunisia’s state-run TAP news agency, the boat carrying as many as 70 refugees and migrants sank 40 nautical miles off the coast of Sfax, some 270km south of the capital, Tunis.

Fishing boats rescued the survivors, TAP reported. The IOM said the vessel took to the sea from neighbouring Libya, where renewed warfare between rival factions has gripped the capital, Tripoli, in recent weeks.

An IOM official told The Associated Press news agency those on board included Bangladeshi and Moroccan nationals, among others. Libya’s western coast is the main departure point for refugees and migrants hoping to reach Europe by sea.

Numbers attempting the journey have dropped due to an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coastguard with funds, ships and training, in return for carrying out interceptions and rescues. The Mediterranean Sea is the “world’s deadliest sea crossing”, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, with one in 14 people dying on the route from Libya to Europe last year.

A UN report published in January said six refugees and migrants died every day in 2018 while attempting to cross the Mediterranean.