At least 40 people died and 51 were rescued after a boat carrying migrants sank off Libya's coast east of Tripoli, Rami Kaal, a spokesman for the Libyan ministry of interior said.

Libya's borders with its sub-Saharan neighbours and its proximity to Italy and Malta across the Mediterranean have made the north African country a common transit route for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Colonel Ayub Kassem said the accident took place on Tuesday.
"The boat sank four kilometres off Garabulli (50 kilometres east of Tripoli).

We were able to save 52 people of various nationalities. Thirty-six bodies have been recovered so far, 24 of them today (Sunday)," he said.

A pregnant woman was among the dead, he added.

Col Kassem cited survivors as saying the boat had 130 people on board, including people from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.

He said the hull of the boat had given way shortly after it left the beach because of the crush of people on board.

Col Kassem was speaking a day after the interim interior minister told reporters that Tripoli could "facilitate" people seeking to reach Europe illegally unless the European Union helps it combat the problem.

"I'm warning the world and Europe in particular -- if they do not assume their responsibilities, Libya could facilitate the transit of this flood" of immigrants towards Europe, Salah Mazek told a news conference.

He said Libya was "suffering" because thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were spreading disease, crime and drugs in the North African nation.

"Libya has paid the price. Now it's Europe's turn to pay," Mr Mazek added.