Migrants who survived a shipwreck arrive at the Lampedusa harbour in Italy on Feb. 11, 2015.
Antonio Parrinello—Reuters
February 11, 2015 11:13 AM EST

At least 300 may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after a boat carrying them from North Africa sank earlier this week, according to the United Nations. The boat is believed to have left from Libya.

The Mediterranean Sea crossing is the world’s most deadly, responsible for 3,500 deaths in 2014, around three-quarters of the total worldwide.

It was described as a “tragedy on an enormous scale” by United Nations High Commission for Refugee regional director Vincent Cochetel, who was quoted by the BBC saying that “Europe cannot afford to do too little too late.” Wednesday’s report came just two days after 29 people died of hypothermia after being rescued by the Italian coastguard from a boat drifting in the Mediterranean.

Italy wound down its ‘Mare Nostrum’ search-and-rescue operation in November, after rescuing around 400 migrants every day for a year. The program was launched after a boat sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa in Oct.2014 killing more than 360 migrants,

The E.U. now runs “Operation Triton”, a much smaller border control mission with fewer ships and less than a third of Mare Nostrum’s budget.

Italy has pushed for the E.U. to do more to support their rescue efforts. Cochtel said the latest boat disaster is “a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea.”


More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Write to Naina Bajekal at naina.bajekal@time.com.

Read More From TIME
You May Also Like