In video released online, the scorched hull of the wrecked boat is seen lodged on coastal rocks with bodies strewn on and near it. The cause of the deaths was not immediately clear, nor was it apparent when the fire started which burned the ship.
The sinking took place off the town of Sabratha in western Libya, a major departure point for mainly African migrants making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.
The International Organization for Migration said in June that at least 150 migrants departing from Libya fear they may have drowned in the first six months of 2022. Crossings typically increase in the summer and early fall.
Libya has become the main transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East amid internal conflicts. Torn by civil war since 2011, the oil-rich country is divided between rival governments, each backed by international bosses and multiple armed militias on the ground.
In recent years, human traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos in Libya, smuggling migrants across the long borders of the desert country with six nations. Migrants are then usually crammed into ill-equipped dinghies and set off on risky sea voyages.
Many of those intercepted and returned to Libya – including women and children – are being held in government-run detention centers where they suffer abuse including torture, rape and extortion, according to advocacy groups.