Boat skipper facing charges over migrant disaster

"We have not yet been able to ask them about this but it seems certain that many of them will have had friends and family who were lost in the wreck."

At talks in Luxembourg on Monday, April 20, EU ministers agreed on a 10-point plan to double the resources available to maritime border patrol mission Triton and further measures will be discussed at a summit of EU leaders on Thursday. 

Critics say Triton is woefully inadequate and are demanding the restoration of a much bigger Italian operation suspended last year because of cost constraints.

The survivors, who hailed from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Somalia, Eritrea and Bangladesh, were all recovering Tuesday at holding centers near Catania on Sicily's eastern coast.

Sunday's disaster was the worst in a series of migrant shipwrecks that have claimed more than 1,750 lives this year – 30 times higher than the same period in 2014 – and nearly 5,000 since the start of last year.

If current trends continue, there could be 30,000 deaths at sea this year, the IOM warned.

Italian officials believe there could be up to one million more would-be immigrants to Europe waiting to board boats in conflict-torn Libya.

Many of them are refugees from Syria's civil war or persecution in places like Eritrea. Others are seeking to escape poverty and hunger in Africa and south Asia and secure a better future in Europe.

Australia's example

Deploring the latest boat tragedy, the UN Security Council on Tuesday called for a strengthened global response to migration and human trafficking.

"The Mediterranean is fast becoming a sea of misery," said UN chief Ban Ki-moon this week.

Despite the prospect of further loss of life, a number of EU governments are reluctant to expand search-and-rescue operations, arguing that they only encourage migrants to attempt the crossing.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Europe should follow his government's lead by deploying military forces to turn migrant boats back.

"The only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats," Abbott said.

Australia's policy has drastically reduced the number of asylum-seekers arriving on its soil and deaths at sea but has been attacked as undermining the principle of asylum.

Ideas being looked at by the EU including trying to capture or destroy people-smuggling boats and a pilot scheme for the fast-track return of migrants to their home countries. – Fanny Carrier with Angus Mackinnon in Rome, AFP / Rappler.com