EU to double size of Mediterranean S&R
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,