At least 45 migrants and refugees have died off the coast of Libya after the engine of a vessel they were travelling in exploded, the UN has reported with five children said to be among the deceased.

The incident in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Zwara, is the deadliest recorded shipwreck of the year so far according to the agency.

Some 37 people, predominantly from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana, are reported to have survived after being rescued by local fishermen and have since been detained.

The Libyan coast is often used as a jumping off point for entry into Europe via Italy and Malta.

Both the two European nations and Libya have declared their ports unsafe due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leading to reports of boats in distress being refused help and instances where hundreds of asylum seekers have spent weeks adrift outside harbours waiting to disembark, according to the EU’s Civil Liberties Committee.

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