EU to dou­ble size of Mediter­ranean S&R

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The Euro­pean Union has agreed to dou­ble the size of its Mediter­ranean search and res­cue op­er­a­tions as the first of the es­ti­mated 900 bod­ies from the dead­li­est known ship­wreck of mi­grants try­ing to reach Europe were brought ashore in Italy and Malta.

Three other res­cue op­er­a­tions were un­der­way near Greece and off Libya to save hun­dreds more mi­grants on over­loaded ves­sels mak­ing the jour­ney from the north coast of Africa to Europe.

The mass deaths have caused shock in Europe, where a de­ci­sion to scale back naval op­er­a­tions last year seems to have in­creased the risks for mi­grants with­out re­duc­ing their num­bers.

Malta’s Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat said as many as 900 peo­ple may have died in Sun­day’s dis­as­ter off the coast of Libya when a large boat cap­sized, mak­ing it the high­est death toll in re­cent times among mi­grants, tens of thou­sands of which are traf­ficked in rick­ety ves­sels across the Mediter­ranean.

As 27 sur­vivors of the dis­as­ter ar­rived in Italy on a coast guard ves­sel late on Mon­day, au­thor­i­ties said the cap­tain of the mi­grant boat and his deputy had been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of peo­ple smug­gling.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pre­sented a ten-point plan to ad­dress the cri­sis, which would in­clude dou­bling the size and the fund­ing of the EU naval op­er­a­tion “Tri­ton”.

But even that would leave the op­er­a­tion smaller and less well-funded than an Ital­ian mission aban­doned last year due to costs and do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion to sea res­cues that could at­tract even more mi­grants.

Fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion launched af­ter hun­dreds of mi­grants drowned near the Ital­ian is­land of Lampe­dusa in 2013, pros­e­cu­tors in Palermo on Mon­day an­nounced they had ar­rested 24 sus­pected traf­fick­ers sus­pected of or­gan­is­ing the trans­port of thou­sands of Ethiopi­ans and Eritre­ans to Italy. How­ever, it was not yet clear whether they had any con­nec­tion with the lat­est dis­as­ter.

700 mi­grants were miss­ing and feared drowned af­ter the boat they were trav­el­ling in cap­sized near Libya on Sun­day. A ma­jor res­cue op­er­a­tion has been un­der­way amid re­ports there may have been as many as 950 peo­ple on board the small wooden boat, with just two dozen res­cued.

The stretch of sea be­tween North Africa and Italy is the world’s dead­li­est migration route and Sun­day’s tragedy may prove the worst dis­as­ter in living mem­ory.

2,300 mi­grants died in the Mediter­ranean in 2011,

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