A spokesman for Libya's coast guard has responded to the criticism of a Spanish aid group and said guard members carry out rescues of Europe-bound migrants, "in accordance with international standards in saving lives at sea."
The Spanish group, Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish rescue group, accused the Libyan coast guard Tuesday of abandoning three people in the Mediterranean Sea, including a woman and a toddler who died.
Coast guard spokesman Ayoub Gassim said in a statement: "All disasters happening in the sea are caused by human traffickers who are only interested in profit and the presence of such irresponsible, non-governmental groups in the region."
He said the coast guard has rescued more than 80,000 migrants who departed Libya for Europe in recent years.
Gassim said earlier Tuesday that the coast guard intercepted a Europe-bound boat with 160 passengers on Monday. The aid group says the three abandoned had refused to get on the coast guard boat.
Libya's coast guard says it has rescued 165 migrants, including 34 women and 12 children, and recovered the body of a child off the eastern coast of the capital, Tripoli.
Coast guard spokesman Ayoub Gassim says the migrants were stuck for more than 60 hours at sea after their rubber boat capsized on Saturday.
He says they were rescued on Tuesday and taken to a naval base in Tripoli, many with serious sunburns.
Libya has emerged as a major transit point to Europe for people fleeing poverty and civil war elsewhere in Africa. Human traffickers have exploited Libya's chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longtime ruler Moammar Gaddafi.
Libyan authorities have stepped up efforts to stem the flow of migrants, with the help of training and money from Europe.
Spain's Maritime Rescue Service says at least 328 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea despite strong currents in the Strait of Gibraltar area, the closest stretch of water separating Europe from North Africa.
The service said 82 migrants, including 16 women and 3 children, were found in a boat attempting to navigate the strait's wild waters on Tuesday after departing from Morocco.
Other boats carrying 189 more people were found further east in the Mediterranean on Tuesday. Another group of 57 migrants landed at tiny Alboran Island, where the rescue service says Spanish soldiers assisted them.
The United Nations migration agency, IOM, says more than 18,000 migrants reached Spain by sea from the beginning of 2018 until mid-July.