By James Mackenzie and Robin Emmott
CATANIA, Italy/LUXEMBOURG – The European Union proposed doubling the size of its Mediterranean search and rescue operations on Monday, as the first bodies were brought ashore of some 900 people feared killed in the deadliest shipwreck while trying to reach Europe. Three other rescue operations were underway on Monday to save hundreds more migrants in peril 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. That is the highest death toll in modern times among migrants, who are trafficked in the tens of thousands in rickety vessels across the Mediterranean. EU ministers held a moment of silence at a meeting to discuss the crisis in Luxembourg. The bloc’s executive, the European Commission, presented a 10 point plan to address the crisis, which would include doubling the size and the funding of “Triton”, an EU naval operation in the Mediterranean.
But even that would still leave the operation smaller and less well-funded than an Italian mission abandoned last year because of its cost and because of domestic opposition to sea rescues that could attract more migrants. Italy and Malta were working to rescue another two migrant boats with around 400 people off the coast of Libya on Monday. Hundreds of kil (miles) to the east, coast guards were struggling to save scores of migrants from another vessel destroyed after running aground off the Greek island of Rhodes. Greek coast guards said at least three people were killed there. Television pictures showed survivors clinging to floating debris while rescuers pulled them from the waves.