Updated - Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi agreed today on the need to secure Libya's borders and 'break the back' of criminal rings organising human trafficking.
In comments after meeting in Rome they said they had discussed Libya and the latest migrant tragedy.
In a press conference, Mr Renzi welcomed Dr Muscat as a ‘great friend’ and said that Malta was giving a big contribution in the migration issue.
What was happening in these hours in the Mediterranean was more than a shipwreck, he said.
“We are facing a serious humanitarian crisis that requires a solid response from the international community.”
“We are facing a new slave trade and new slave traders. We are going back in time when people made money from human life. That is what is happening now in North Africa.
He said three migrant rescue operations were currently under way. One, 30 miles from Libya, involved a boat with 100 to 150 people on board. Another had 300 on board. “We're working with Malta on this” he said.
He said that even after the weekend tragedy, there seemed to be an escalation of ‘death boats’ being sent out.
It shows how a criminal organisation was behind all this.
“The point is that we cannot allow trade in human life,” Mr Renzi said.
Action was needed for the people traffickers to face international justice .
He said cooperation with Malta was excellent.
If there were issues in the past these had been overcome, he stressed.
In the coming hours, he said, the European Council could show that this was not just a problem for Italy and Malta.
"If we care about human dignity, we cannot allow this to go on."
Dr Muscat said this was the time for the EU member states to team up. Something needed to be done about this international racket.
If it was confirmed that 950 died on Saturday, whoever organised that trip had made €1 million to €1.5 million.
"These masterminds cannot be let off scot free, thinking that Europe does not have what it takes."
Malta and Italy, he said, were working to reach the widest possible agreement to catch these criminals.
He said that what he had heard in the past few hours amounted to a game changer by many leaders he had spoken to.
If Europe did not team up, history would judge it very badly, as it did in the past when it closed its eyes to genocide.
His worry, Dr Muscat said, was that people were getting used to such tragedies.
"We need to secure Libya's borders and break the back of the criminal networks." That, he said, had been agreed but wider EU agreement was needed.
Replying to questions, Dr Muscat said he did not envision an invasion of Libya but action against these 'slave networks'.
He said a peacekeeping mission in Libya was not on the cards. "We are talking about direct interventions to target these networks, he said.
That could include a naval blockade but one had to be careful not to create a situation where one would be creating a corridor controlled by the smugglers.
Earlier today, Sandro Gozi, Italy's Under-secretary for European Affairs praised the relationship between the two countries. He told Rai that Italy and Malta were an example of how European countries should work together on migration.
The meeting between Dr Muscat and Mr Renzi followed the weekend tragedy in which up to 900 migrants are feared dead when a boat capsized 130 miles south of Lampedusa.
In the morning both leaders had talks on the phone with several EU leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Dr Muscat was also interviewed by several media networks including CNN where he repeatedly called for measures to secure Libya's borders.
EU SUMMIT ON THURSDAY
European Council President Donald Tusk has called EU leaders together for an extraordinary summit on Thursday to discuss a joint response to the flow of migrants from North Africa and to disasters that have caused thousands to drown.
Italy and Malta had jointly requested the summit meeting.