(Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers met on Monday under pressure to produce more than words and save desperate migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, as bodies of the deadliest known wreck of its kind were brought ashore in Malta.
The death toll from Sunday’s disaster off the coast of Libya was uncertain but likely to be the highest in modern times among migrants trafficked in rickety boats across the Mediterranean. Officials said there had been at least 700 people on board, some reportedly locked in the hold. It comes days after another wreck believed to have killed around 400 people.
Hundreds of kilometers (miles) to the east, coast guards were struggling to save 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.
The International Organization for Migration said three more vessels had sent out distress calls on Monday.
European officials are struggling to come up with a policy to respond more humanely to an exodus of migrants traveling by sea from Africa and Asia to Europe, without worsening the crisis by encouraging more to leave.
An Italian naval operation in the southern Mediterranean, known as “Mare Nostrum”, was canceled last year because of its cost and domestic opposition to sea rescues that could encourage more migration.
It was replaced in November by a far smaller EU mission with a third of the budget, a decision that seems to have made the journey much deadlier for migrants packed into rickety vessels by traffickers who promise a better life in Europe.