EU border agency expands migrant rescue operation in Mediterranean
WARSAW - The EU's border agency said Tuesday it will expand its search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean to help cope with an upsurge in migrants trying to reach Europe, after UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on Europe to do more.
The Warsaw-based Frontex border agency said in a statement it will now deploy three aircraft, six offshore patrol vessels, 12 patrol boats, two helicopters and 15 teams of experts to the Triton operation off southern Italy during the peak summer season and also expand its operational area.
The move constitutes a doubling or tripling of resources deployed up till now and comes a month after EU leaders agreed to increase the operation's monthly funding from 3 million euros ($3.3 million) to 9 million euros.
The expansion would "support the Italian authorities in controlling its sea borders and in saving lives, too many of which have already been tragically lost this year," Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said in the statement.
Twenty-six European countries are participating in the operation, Frontex said.
Earlier Tuesday, Ban told reporters that Europe "can provide more help" and called for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to be "further strengthened".
So far this year, some 1,770 migrants have perished on the hazardous journey to Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration, representing a 30-fold increase over the same period in 2014.
EU ministers last week approved plans for a military operation to fight Mediterranean people smugglers, although proposals to destroy traffickers' boats in Libyan waters still need UN approval.
The European Commission has also unveiled plans to make the rest of the 28-nation EU share the burden of frontline states such as Italy, Greece and Malta, although some countries like Britain are opposed.