Boat carrying around 100 migrants and refugees capsizes off the port of Sfax, with the coastguard and navy units able to pull 24 people out of the water, Tunisian officials say.

Boat was carrying migrants and refugees
Boat was carrying migrants and refugees "of various African and Asian nationalities," officials say. (AP)

More than 70 people are missing in the Mediterranean Sea after a boat crowded with migrants headed for Europe from Libya sank off neighbouring Tunisia, the coastguard said.

The boat, which was carrying around 100 people when it was put to sea, capsized off the Tunisian port of Sfax, with the coastguard and navy units able to pull 24 people out of the water, National Guard spokesperson Houcem Eddine Jebabli said on Wednesday.

"According to preliminary results of the investigation, an inflatable boat left the coast of Zawara in Libya on Sunday night with around 100 people on board," he said, adding that so far one body had been recovered.

The boat, which was carrying around 100 people when it was put to sea, capsized off the Tunisian port of Sfax, with the coastguard and navy units able to pull 24 people out of the water, National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli said on Wednesday.

They were "of various African and Asian nationalities", he added.

Libya has become a major launchpad for migrants and refugees seeking to reach Europe on what has become the world's deadliest migration route.

Many end up in Italy, some 300 kilometres away, but many others die at sea when their often unseaworthy boats capsize or break down.

Improving weather in recent weeks has prompted a spike in departures.

READ MORE: Dozen dead, many missing as refugee boats sink off Tunisia

Deaths at sea 

Since the start of the year, 6,340 migrants have been intercepted and returned to Libya, according to figures published by International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Monday.

Human rights groups say those who returned often face horrific abuses.

At least 129 people have died attempting the crossing and 459 have gone missing, the IOM said.

Tunisia's Sfax region is itself a busy departure point for attempts to reach Europe, some of them by its own citizens.

In early May, authorities said they had found the bodies of 24 migrants who had drowned in such attempts.

Last year, 15,671 migrants attempted to reach Italy from Tunisia, up from fewer than 13,000 in 2020, according to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES).

Nearly 2,000 migrants went missing or drowned in the Mediterranean in 2021, compared to 1,401 the previous year, according to the IOM.

READ MORE: Over a dozen asylum seekers found dead off Tunisia

Source: AFP