The European Union agreed on 20 April a 10-point plan to prevent more tragedies in the Mediterranean, unveiling actions that are both civilian and military in nature and which officials likened to the bloc's counter-piracy programme.

The mass deaths of migrants over the weekend, with some 900 feared killed, have been met with shock in Europe, where a decision to scale back naval operations last year appears to have made the journey far more perilous for migrants without reducing their numbers.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini announced the plan, which was backed by EU foreign and interior ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg.

"First, I've seen a broad consensus on the need to fight united against traffickers and smugglers of human beings. We've identified some actions, some of them can be implemented in a reasonably short period of time. In particular, I'm thinking of strengthening our presence in Niger where we already have a mission, EUCAP Sahel, that can be strengthened and that can solve the crucial element of one of the ways of access to Libya through its southern border," Mogherini told reporters at a news briefing.

The Commission also announced it would double the size and the funding of Triton, an EU naval operation in the Mediterranean.

"The second element that emerged as consensual is the need to strengthen our duty to save lives at sea. This means for sure a stronger Triton and Poseidon, with more funds, with more coverage, with more links to rescue obligations, and to address search and rescue in a more structured, long-term way, and to strengthen [European border control agency] Frontex accordingly," Mogherini said.

European officials are struggling to come up with a policy to respond more humanely to an exodus of migrants travelling by sea from Africa and Asia to Europe, without worsening the crisis by encouraging more to leave.

Mogherini said EU member states need to share the responsibilities when it comes to the resettlement and relocation of refugees.

"Obviously we need cooperation with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] on this but we have an internal reflection to develop," she added.

If the toll is confirmed in Sunday's tragedy (19 April), as many as 1,800 migrants will have died so far trying to cross the Mediterranean since the start of this year. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates around 21,000 made the voyage successfully.

In comparison, by the end of April last year, fewer than 100 had died out of 26,000 who crossed.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the situation would only worsen if action is not immediately taken.

"If we do not act now, the crisis will take dangerous proportions in the months to come. Europe needs to respond united to this challenge that is related to the core values of the Union," he told the same news briefing.

The number of migrants normally surges in the summer, meaning far greater numbers are likely to attempt the voyage in coming months. In total last year 174,000 made the journey successfully and around 3,200 died.