At least 39 people died on Tuesday when two boats carrying irregular migrants sank off the coast of Sfax in southern Tunisia, according to the authorities.

“On Tuesday morning, a marine unit rescued 70 illegal migrants of African nationalities, including Tunisians, who were seeking help at the sinking site, north of Al-Ataya [an area on Kerkennah Island],” the Defense Ministry said.

Three marine units, backed by a team of divers, carried out a second operation in the same area and rescued 52 migrants who were about to drown, and recovered nine bodies.

In the same operation, Marine Guard units rescued 24 people, and recovered 30 bodies, while a fishing boat rescued 19 others.

Earlier Tuesday, the official Tunisian News Agency quoted Houssam al-Din Jebali, a spokesman for the Tunisian National Guard, as saying the naval unit of the National Guard recovered the bodies of 14 migrants, including nine women, four children and a man, and rescued 140 others.

“The two boats sank off the coast of Karatin on the island of Kerkennah in Sfax,” Jebali said, pointing out that “the migrants were of different African nationalities, including two Tunisians.”

The spokesman said the National Guard rescued 46 people aboard the first boat, and 94 people from the other.

Irregular migration to Europe continues because of the economic and humanitarian crises experienced by most of the countries in the region.

*Writing by Mahmoud Barakat

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