2016 on Track to Be Deadliest Year for Refugees Trying to Reach Europe

PHOTO: A search and rescue operation is carried out after a boat carrying refugees sank in the Aegean Sea off Turkeys western province of Aydin on March 6, 2016.PlayBahri Asik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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ON BOARD THE I.T.S. GIRABALDI, CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN SEA - The death toll on the Mediterranean Sea is skyrocketing and on track to shatter 2015's record, the deadliest year-to-date for refugees.

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More than 3,000 people have died trying to reach Europe so far this year compared to around 1,900 this time last year, according to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM).

And with calm summer seas, that number will continue to rise.

"The traffickers are using much more risky crafts," said IOM spokesman Joel Millman. "They are trying to get these boats into the sea as quickly as they can, stuffing people in, in greater numbers."

According to Millman, the arrivals have remained consistent with last year.

So far this year, 250,000 people have landed safely in Europe, compared to 220,000 last year. And many owe their lives to the European Union's task force, Operation Sophia, patrolling the waters off Libya's coast.

The EU estimates an average of 800 refugees and migrants attempt the central Mediterranean route every day. And every day, 12 of those people never make it to the other side.

Led by the Italian Navy's aircraft carrier, the I.T.S. Girabaldi, the fleet lurks on the border between Libyan territorial waters and international waters, waiting to close in.

The mandate: save lives and send smugglers to Italian courts.

Eighty-two smugglers have been nabbed since the start of Operation Sophia in October. The mission claims it has saved more than 21,000 lives directly. But admittedly, without being able to cross into Libyan territorial waters, the big bosses remain out of reach.

Alongside Médecins Sans Frontières and other NGOs, the fleet was involved in rescue operations on Monday that saved some 1,800 people headed for Italy. More than 2,600 people alone have died en route to Italy from Libya this year.

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A video posted by Molly Hunter (@hunterabcnews) on Jul 26, 2016 at 4:22am PDT

Operation Sophia also confiscates boats when it can, and has hauled in a total of 223 since the beginning of the year. That means older, derelict boats are going back into circulation, according to the IOM, creating an increasingly dangerous journey.

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