(Tunis) Twenty migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are missing after a shipwreck off the coast of Tunisia on Friday, and 17 others have been rescued, a spokesman for the court in Sfax, in the center-east, told AFP. from the country.

According to testimonies collected by the justice system which opened an investigation, these 37 migrants had “left the coast when their boat sank on Friday afternoon” and only 17 could be saved, said spokesperson Faouzi Masmoudi.

This is at least the sixth shipwreck since the beginning of March, according to an AFP count, and these accidents off the Tunisian coast have left at least a hundred dead or missing.

The spokesman said he had been informed on Friday evening of the new sinking and had opened an investigation into the circumstances of the accident.

On Friday, the National Guard announced that it had rescued or intercepted “14,406 people, including 13,138 from sub-Saharan Africa, the rest being Tunisians”, over the first three months of the year, more than five times the number recorded for the same period of 2022.

The figures for 2023 are “up very sharply because there are many more departures”, National Guard spokesman Houssem Jebabli told AFP.

Almost all interceptions and rescues in 2023 took place in areas of Sfax, the country’s second city.

Tunisia, some portions of the coastline of which are less than 150 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa, very regularly records attempts by migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan African countries, to leave for Italy.

The departures intensified after a violent speech on February 21 by Tunisian President Kais Saied slamming illegal immigration.