U.N. urges Europe to start major migrant rescue mission in Mediterranean

A migrant who survived a shipwreck is helped as he arrives with others at Lampedusa harbour, Italy, February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

(Reuters) – The European Union must establish a full search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean following the death this week of hundreds of migrants who were trying to reach Italy, the U.N. refugee chief said on Thursday.

More than 300 people are feared to have died off the Libyan coast after they set sail in inflatable dinghies in rough, wintry conditions.

The tragedy came just weeks after Italy wound down its major sea rescue mission, dubbed Mare Nostrum, because of funding concerns, and replaced it with a pan-European operation, Triton, which has fewer ships and covers a smaller area.

“There can be no doubt left after this week’s events that Europe’s Operation Triton is a woefully inadequate replacement for Italy’s Mare Nostrum,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement…