Italian Coastguard to use drones in Mediterranean: Minister

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Rome, July 26 (IANS/AKI) Drones will be deployed by Italy's Coastguard in its search and rescue operations aimed at saving boat migrants' lives in the Mediterranean, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Thursday.

"Thanks to the patrol boat decree, coastguard will be able to use drones in monitoring, search and rescue operations.

"We will give new tools and more technology to enable our coastguard to save human lives and best carry out their many tasks," he tweeted.

A total of 1,492 migrants perished on the crossing from North Africa to Europe this year, and more than half these deaths occurred since June 1, according to the United Nations migration agency, the International Organisation for Migration.

A total of 564 boat migrants who attempted to cross from North Africa to Italy were reported drowned on missing in June while 3,136 arrived: a death rate of almost 18 percent, the IOM figures showed.

The number of deaths in the Central Mediterranean in June was the highest since 2014 and compares with 529 in June 2017: 2.4 percent of the 23,524 arrivals that month, according to the IOM data.

The sharp rise in deaths in the Mediterranean since June came as overall arrivals by sea to Europe almost halved this year to 53,269 from 110,603 last year, IOM reported.

Italy's populist government that took office on June 1 has taken a tough stance against boat migrants and has closed its ports to NGO and international rescue ships, turning away several, and has set a goal of zero arrivals.

Meanwhile Italy and Malta have scaled back their search and rescue operations in international waters leaving the European-trained Libyan coastguard to save migrants off Libya.

Italy also wants the rules of engagement for the European Union's Sofia anti-trafficking mission to changed so that migrants rescued by its vessels do not have to be taken to Italian ports.