File photo: Proactiva Open Arms via AP.

World - Libya's coastguard has recovered the bodies of five migrants and rescued 65 others after their Europe-bound boat sank east of the capital Tripoli.

The Libyan navy said in a statement that the boat was near the coastal city of al-Khoms and had 90 people on board.

It added that the bodies of three men, a woman and a child were retrieved and between 15 and 20 were still missing.

The navy said the search operation is over and fishermen in the area have been told to watch out for any bodies surfacing.

The majority of those rescued are from Sudan, while the others are from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, according to the statement.

Earlier, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Charlie Yaxley tweeted in Geneva that at least 40 people were thought to be dead or missing, but he added that "details [are] still very sketchy as rescuers arrive on the scene and speak with survivors."

Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 revolt that toppled long-time dictator Moamer Gaddafi.

In recent years, the country has been a major transit route for migrants, mostly Africans, trying to reach Europe by boat, with many thousands being rescued or drowning at sea.

So far this year, around 600 people have died on the Central Mediterranean migration route, which links Libya with Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In total, around 859 people have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year; the central passage is by far the most dangerous one, compared to the routes to Spain and to Greece.

dpa