Maersk Ships Rescue Hundreds as Mediterranean Death Toll Rises

A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S container ships traversing the Mediterranean Sea are aiding in the rescue of refugees from waters that have become a graveyard for thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty.

Vessels operated by Copenhagen-based Maersk Line have participated in six operations saving 848 people so far this year. That’s almost as many as it picked up from the sea in the whole of 2014, when the company’s ships took part in 10 missions rescuing 1,100, according to Karsten Kildahl, head of Maersk Line’s North European operations.

“It’s a very, very sad problem and one which we need authorities to react to because we are not equipped to solve it,” Kildahl said in an interview on Tuesday in Hamburg.

Hundreds of people fleeing through conflict-wracked Libya were feared drowned in a weekend disaster, which prompted European Union leaders to call a summit Thursday to speed up a 10-point migration-management plan that was due to be unveiled in May. The latest emergencies involved capsized boats with more than 700 refugees each on April 20 and April 19.

“If you talk about human life at stake, it doesn’t really matter if the ship is delayed or whether there is some extra cost to it,” said Kildahl. “We are talking about hundreds of people that are about to die.”

More than 36,000 asylum seekers and migrants, largely from Africa and the Middle East, have risked the Mediterranean crossing to southern Europe so far this year, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The weekend tragedy, if the numbers are confirmed, would bring the death toll to about 1,600 so far in 2015, compared with 3,500 in all of 2014, according to the office.

According to Frontex, the EU border-management agency, more than 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2014, representing the largest influx into one country in EU history. That compares with 40,000 of them crossing the previous year to Italy and Malta, with Libya often the “nexus point” where migrants meet to embark.

The eastern Mediterranean route used by migrants crossing Turkey to the EU via Greece, southern Bulgaria or Cyprus was the second-largest area for border crossings in 2014, at 50,830.

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