Ben Guerdane (Tunisia) (AFP) - Tunisian rescuers have recovered the bodies of at least 41 migrants since Friday after their ship sank off the Libyan coast and more are expected to be found, officials said.
The victims were found in an area that has seen many boatloads of illegal migrants capsize.
"Forty-one bodies have been recovered," Mustapha Abdelkebir, the mayor of Ben Guerdane in southeast Tunisia, said on Saturday.
He said that this was only a provisional toll -- echoing an earlier warning from the director of El Ketf port Fethi Abaab -- and said that search operations were suspended for the night.
Abaab had earlier reported that women were among the victims plucked from the sea and said that fishermen have seen more bodies in the water.
A rescue operations official said the bodies were badly decomposed and said he believed they were migrants who had been trying to make their way to Europe in search of a better life.
They were "probably" some of the people who went missing earlier this week when their boat capsized after leaving the Libyan port of Zwara, heading for Italy, the official said.
The bodies of some victims were plucked from the sea while others washed up on the coast. Some were wearing life jackets.
When their vessel was wrecked was not immediately known.
Mired in unrest and political chaos, Libya has been a launchpad for illegal migrants trying to reach Europe and who turn to people smugglers to cross the Mediterranean, mainly to Italy.
Since the end of July, dozens of people who have set off on rickety boats from Libya have died at sea, and dozens more have gone missing, presumed drowned.
Last week, Libyan rescuers recovered the bodies of around 170 people after a boat carrying illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa sank, the coastguard said.
The International Organisation for Migration warned that unrest in Libya could lead more migrants to risk their lives and take to unseaworthy boats to try to reach Italy.