THE British Navy has found and rescued over 400 migrants from the Mediterranean and has put them in Her Majesty Ship, Bulwark.
Its passengers – including pregnant women and children – were expected to be taken directly to either mainland Italy or Sicily with a diplomatic source insisting there was ‘no chance’ they would be given asylum in Britain and all 400 would be registered in Italy.
The 400 rescued are said to be ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ as British defence sources said they expect hundreds, or potentially thousands, more migrants to be rescued in the coming weeks.
The latest rescue means the 19,000-tonne assault ship has been involved in the rescue of approximately 600 people since it was sent on search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
A source said: “I sense that there is still plenty to do, this is the tip of the iceberg. There are ebs and flows as weather dictates when they will make their break for it.”
It is the second – and the largest – rescue undertaken by the warship since it was finally deployed to the region along with Merlin helicopters last week.
The Italian coastguards were alerted to two boats in distress at around 4.30 a.m. on Tuesday. The two inflatable boats were said to be in ‘peril’ and were sinking with approximately 100 migrants aboard each boat.
They were transferred onto the ship and helicopter’s landing craft and taken to HMS Bulwark where they remained early Tuesday.
While the operation was ongoing, HMS Bulwark was notified of another two ships which were in European Union waters and were taking on water. Each vessel also had an estimated 100 migrants on board in distress.
According to the Ministry of Defence, they were ‘dangerously overcrowded boats’.
“Because there are so many migrants, HMS Bulwark will take them all directly to Italy, rather than transfer them onto an Italian vessel,” a source said.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “HMS Bulwark and her crew have already proved an invaluable asset in assisting with the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
“The ship is providing medical assistance, food, water and dry clothes to those in need and will transfer them safely to land as soon as possible.”
About 1,800 people are thought to have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year while trying to cross from North Africa to Europe. They have been sent by trafficking gangs using boats that are often unseaworthy.
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