Italian vessels were continuing to look for bodies after a boat capsized north of the Libyan coast on Sunday night.
A record number of migrants travelling to Italy by sea has put enormous pressure on the Italian coast guard and navy this year. At the weekend Italy urged the European Union to take over sea patrols in the Mediterranean and hinted it could stop sending its ships out to search for boats in distress if the EU didn’t take responsibility.
Italy says it spends 9.5 million euros each month on air and sea patrols. Operations were beefed up after more than 360 migrants drowned off the island of Lampedusa last October.
More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Italy from North Africa since January. Calmer summer seas and civil unrest, exploited by human traffickers, has led to more people making the crossing.
“Only the blind can’t see what is happening: the more the situation on the Mediterranean border worsens, the clearer it becomes that [operation] Mare Nostrum has to be substituted by joint European action,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on Sunday.
European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom thanked Italy for its efforts in assisting migrants and said she would be meeting Alfano in Brussels on Wednesday.
Italy has long attracted seaborne migrants, but arrivals this year are already far above a previous record of just over 60,000 for all of 2011, when the Arab Spring uprisings fuelled migration.