Boat carrying African immigrants sinks off Libya coast
Migrants sit in their boat during a rescue operation by Italian navy ship Scirocco, about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Libya. Reuters file photo

Dozens of people are feared dead after a boat carrying about 200 African immigrants sank off a coast near Libyan capital Tripoli.

At least 20 bodies have been recovered by the authorities and some of the passengers have been rescued alive. Up to 170 people are yet unaccounted for.

"We are looking for 170 African passengers on a wooden boat that has foundered off the Guarabouli area. A few miles off the coast, we found the remains of a wooden boat which had some 200 migrants on board," a Libya coastguard official Abdellatif Mohammed Ibrahim told AFP.

The rescue personnel do not have enough resources to carry out the emergency measures as they are struggling with a single patrol boat in the region.

Although the identities of the travellers are unclear; some are believed to be Eritreans and Somalis, who are en route to Europe most likely seeking asylum.

Libya has turned into a haven the people smugglers who capitalise on the political turmoil and the desperate Africans who are looking to escape from the perils of their nations.

In recent months, dozens of such asylum-seekers have been reported missing or presumed drowned as their poorly-equipped boats capsize.