At least 20 people killed as migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast

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Four pregnant women were among 20 migrants whose bodies were found off Tunisia's coast after their smuggling boat sank, Tunisian authorities said Friday, as search efforts continued for 13 others believed missing.

Nineteen of the 20 migrants who died in Thursday’s sinking were women, according to Mourad Torki, the court spokesman for the Sfax region in central Tunisia.

Four migrants were rescued, Torki said: One remained under medical supervision Friday and another fled the hospital.

The boat, overloaded and in poor condition, was carrying 37 people — three Tunisians and others from sub-Saharan Africa, Torki said. Coast guard boats and navy divers were searching for the 13 missing, but found no new bodies or survivors Friday, amid strong winds and high waves in the area.

Tunisian authorities say they have intercepted several migrant smuggling boats recently, but that the number of attempts has been growing, notably between the Sfax region and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The coastline near the Tunisian port city of Sfax has become a major departure point for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and searching for a better life in Europe.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)