North African migrants stand on the deck of the Coast Guard rescue vessel as they arrive in the harbor of the Italian island of Lampedusa on July 8, 2013.

© 2013 Reuters

It's crossing season again in the Mediterranean. With crossing season comes death at sea, as we were reminded yesterday with the gut-wrenching news that 31 people had drowned trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa from nearby Libya. Every summer people clamber onto rickety and overcrowded boats to make the crossing from North Africa, fleeing persecution or in search of a better life.

Yes, Italy and Malta are cooperating better now than before on rescues at sea. But there's a lot more that the EU could do to save lives, including improving coordination and making sure that a new EU border surveillance program includes a clear duty to rescue the people involved. 

The issue remains pressing as arrivals by sea are up this year compared with 2012 – 8,500 people have reached Italy and Malta since January, compared with 4,500 in the same period last year. The death toll so far seems to be lower – under 100, compared with 500 for the whole of 2012. But every death is a tragedy for a family, and every one of these tragedies should stir Europe's conscience, as Pope Francis made clear during a mass on Lampedusa to honor the dead.