Survivors says some 126 migrants died in wreck — United Nations agency

Italy has registred more than 65,000 migrant arrivals since January up nearly a fifth from this same time last yearMore

Nearly 130 migrants were feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after smugglers stole the engine from their overloaded rubber dinghy, causing it to sink.

A Spanish navy ship was dispatched to help two migrant boats struggling to stay afloat near Libya on Saturday afternoon, and at sundown it found three other rubber dinghies transporting migrants in the area, Spain's Defence Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Four migrants were rescued by Libyan fishermen, IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said on Twitter.

The four survivors - two Sudanese and two Nigerian nationals - were picked up by Libyan fisherman who handed them over to another migrant boat making the risky Mediterranean Sea crossing.

"The boat, which was already overloaded, quickly began taking on water and sank", Di Giacomo said.

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A passing Libyan fishing vessel rescued the four survivors and put them on another boat of smuggled migrants.

The UN Migration Agency said 44,209 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017, through May 3.

"They were in shock, traumatised by what had happened, and exhausted", Di Giacomo said, adding that there were no official witnesses to what had happened, but refugees from the second boat had confirmed the account. They were eventually rescued and brought to the Sicilian port of Palermo.

Gangs in Libya have built a lucrative trade out of packing migrants into rickety boats heading for Italy, where more than 65,000 have arrived so far this year.

Over 77,000 people reached Europe by sea and 1,828 have died or gone missing in the attempt as of June 14, according to the IOM's Missing Migrant Project.