The bodies of some 150 migrants have been found off Tunisia’s coast after a Europe-bound boat capsized, UN and Red Cross officials say.

An operation to rescue passengers began off the Tunisian Kerkennah islands on Wednesday.

More than 580 people were saved, but some 250 went missing as the boat capsized in the stampede to leave.

The migrants were on a boat bound from Libya for Italy.

Rescue operations by the Tunisian navy and coast guard are still continuing.

Seven people, including two pregnant women, are in intensive care in hospitals at Sfax on the Tunisian mainland.

Supplies ran out

“Up to now 150 bodies of refugees have been found off the shores of Kerkennah,” Carole Laleve from the UN refugee agency told Reuters news agency.

The passengers – mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh – had set sail from Libya’s capital Tripoli on Saturday afternoon.

According to survivors interviewed by UNHCR, the boat was manned by people with little or no maritime experience.

It ran into difficulty soon after departure and experienced problems with its steering and power.

By the third day of the journey the passengers ran out of food and water and the boat then ran aground near the Kerkennah islands, some 300km (about 185 miles) north-west of Tripoli.

It capsized as the passengers rushed to one side to reach the Tunisian coast guard and fishing boats that had approached the vessel.

On Wednesday, 195 survivors were transferred to a camp run by the International Federation of the Red Cross near Ras Adjir, close to Tunisia’s border with Libya.

Another 383 are scheduled to be transported to the same or nearby camps on Thursday, the UN refugee agency said.

Italy has faced a massive influx of refugees since the fall of the regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia in January and the outbreak of war in neighbouring Libya.

The Italian island of Lampedusa lies only about 130km (80 miles) off the Tunisian coast.

Italy has complained it is not getting enough help from its EU partners to deal with the influx, which has prompted some European countries to warn they may reimpose border controls.

Source: BBC