TRIPOLI - Up to 40 people are feared dead after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Europe-bound vessel overturned off the coast of Libya with reports of a major loss of life.

The UN refugee agency said: ‘Terrible news coming in of potentially large loss of life in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya.’

Around 100 people were on the ship and Libya’s coast guard says it has retrieved five bodies so far. The UN said that children were among the dead.

A further 60 people have been rescued after the boat overturned close to the western Libyan town of Khoms. However, at least 40 people are still unaccounted for and rescuers are searching the sea.

Un-seaworthy vessels overloaded with migrants trying to reach Europe regularly capsize off Libya. Last week more than 100 people died, and a boat with about 250 capsized last month.

Libya became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe after the uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Traffickers and armed groups have exploited Libya’s chaos since his overthrow. (FA)