Eight Tunisian migrants who attempted to cross by sea to Italy accused Tunisia's coast guard on Monday of charging their boat, killing five people and leaving 30 missing.
The survivors told AFP that the Tunisian coast guard ship "charged" their boat and broke it in two on Friday as it carried 120 people as part of a wave of migrants making their way from Tunisia to Italy.
"The boat... was carrying 120 passengers, 85 people were saved, five died and 30 are still missing," said one of the survivors, 23-year-old Ziad Ben Abdaalah, whose statements were confirmed by seven other survivors, who all paid 2,000 dinars (ê1,400, 1,000 euros) for the attempted trip.
Ben Abdaalah said the migrants' boat had left from Tunisia's tourist zone of El-Ogla, near Zarzis, 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the capital Tunis.
"It was 3:00 pm. The weather was good. We were approaching the Italian coast after 12 hours on board, and we were no more than an hour from Italy, when the National Guard boat gave us the order to stop our engines," he said.
"Then the coast guard boat, which was 40-metres (130-feet) long, moved into a position parallel to ours before backing about 700 metres (yards) away. We thought the boat was turning around, but all of a sudden it charged us," he said.
"We heard the guards saying 'lower your heads' and then they charged on us and broke the boat in two," he said.
The survivors said they were then taken to a military base in the Tunisian city of Sfax, where they were given food and blankets but also had their fingerprints and photographs taken.
Coast guard officials in Zarzis reached by AFP admitted that a sinking had taken place but blamed it on the migrants' boat being dilapidated and refused to make any further comments.
Follow Emirates 24|7 on Google News.