At least 48 migrants were killed when their boat sank off Tunisia's southern coast and 67 others were rescued by the coast guard, the defence ministry said today, one of the worst migrant boat accidents in recent years.

The migrants were of Tunisian and other nationalities.

The rescue operation was suspended late this evening but will resume in the morning, officials said.

Human traffickers increasingly use Tunisia as a launch pad for migrants heading to Europe as Libya’s coast guard, aided by armed groups, has tightened controls.

Security officials said the boat was packed with about 180 migrants, including 80 from other African countries.

A survivor said the captain had abandoned the boat after it started sinking to escape arrest by the coast guard.

Unemployed Tunisians and other Africans often try to depart in makeshift boats from Tunisia to Sicily in Italy. 

The North African country is in the middle of a deep economic crisis since the toppling of autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 threw Tunisia into turmoil with unemployment and inflation shooting up.

Nine migrants drown off coast of Turkey

Meanwhile, nine migrants, including at least six children, seeking to head to Europe in a speedboat have drowned when the vessel sank off Turkey's Mediterranean coast, state media reports said.

The boat hit trouble off the Demre district of Turkey's Mediterranean Antalya province, a popular holiday spot, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Five were rescued while one person was still missing, it added.

Two adults, plus one woman and six children lost their lives, it said.

The Dogan news agency said that they were seeking to head illegally to Europe but their planned route was not immediately clear.

The nearest EU territory is the small Greek island of Kastellorizo to the west which lies off the Turkish resort of Kas.

The nationalities of those on board have yet to be made clear.

Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc's worst migration crisis since World War II.

Turkey struck a deal with the EU in 2016 in an effort to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, and agreed to take back illegal migrants landing on Greek islands in exchange for incentives including financial aid.

The deal, chastised by rights groups, sharply curbed the number of migrants seeking to cross the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas from Turkey to Greece.

However, observers say that the numbers seeking to cross this route have been ticking up again in recent months.

Thirty-five people lost their lives using this route so far this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

As well as migrants from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the route has been used by Turkish citizens fleeing the crackdown that followed the 2016 failed coup.