TUNIS - At least 46 migrants were killed when their boat sank off Tunisia's southern coast and 67 others were rescued by the coast guard, the defense ministry said on Sunday, one of the worst migrant boat accidents in recent years.
The rescue operation was ongoing, the ministry said in a statement. The migrants were of Tunisian and other nationalities.
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.
"I survived by clinging to wood for nine hours," he said at a hospital in the southern city of Sfax where dozens of people gathered to look for survivors and identify dead relatives.
Unemployed Tunisians and other Africans often try to depart in makeshift boats from Tunisia to Sicily in Italy.