Egypt's foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid confirmed on Friday that at least three Egyptian fisherman drowned off Libya's coast a day earlier.
In a statement, he said that their eight-man boat had gone missing and they along with a Palestinian colleague subsequently perished. Four Egyptian survivors are being detained by Libyan authorities, Abu Zeid said.
Ahmed Abdou, head of the Egyptian fishermen's syndicate, said on Thursday that 26 Egyptians in two fishing boats drowned along with the six Libyan boat owners and that four Egyptian survivors were being held by Libyan authorities in Khoms.
On Thursday Abu Zeid said he was investigating reports of 26 Egyptian fishermen drowning off the Libyan city of Khoms due to extreme weather.
On Friday Abu Zeid's statement said that “according to the information the foreign ministry has, 16 Egyptian fishermen from Kafr El-Sheikh were working on two Libyan fishing boats in Libyan waters when one of the boats carrying eight fishermen went missing.” He said the information was "initial".
He went on to say that four fishermen subsequently drowned including three Egyptians and a Palestinian, and that the other four survived.
“The 16 fishermen headed from [Egypt's] Kafr El-Sheikh governorate in Egyptian fishing boats to the Libyan shores where they moved to two Libyan fishing boats and worked there,” Ahmed Abu Zeid said in the statement issued on Friday.
The official spokesman said it is difficult to communicate with the Libyan authorities because there is no Egyptian diplomatic representation in Libya. Egypt withdrew its diplomatic mission from Libya in 2014 due to the deteriorating security situation.
Nevertheless, he is in communication with Libyan authorities and tribal chieftains in order to get more information and updates about the situation of the fishermen.
Egypt's foreign affairs ministry has warned Egyptian fishermen not to fish in the territorial waters of neighbouring countries without permission, telling them to respect other countries' sovereignty.
Dozens of Egyptian fisherman have been detained and later released after illegally fishing in Sudanese and Tunisian waters over the past months.