Navy rescues 700 in migrant boats
A British Navy warship has rescued 747 migrants trying to make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean and delivered them to safety in Italy.
HMS Bulwark plucked the migrants from dangerously overcrowded boats in the waters just north of Libya.
Many young children, some without parents, were among those rescued by crew aboard the ship.
The 19,000-tonne assault ship was sent by the Government to help with search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean in a bid to tackle a dramatic increase in the number of people dying trying to cross the sea.
It is estimated that more than 1,600 people have drowned so far this year trying to make the dangerous crossing.
Many are fleeing war in Libya, where Islamic State fighters are terrorising the population, fuelling instability in the war-torn country.
The Ministry of Defence said the rescued migrants were clearly exhausted from their perilous journeys, which had taken many months for some, but all clearly relieved to finally set foot on safe land.
They have been passed on to the care of the Italians but their future remains uncertain.
Naval leaders have also warned that fine weather means they expect many more migrants to risk their lives trying to cross the sea in the coming weeks.
Commander Gavin Edward, coordinating the ship's arrival on the jetty, said: "The speed with which the Italian Red Cross, police and government officials have received these survivors has been really impressive and as a result we should be able to set sail later this afternoon."
Inside the towering grey sides of the amphibious warship, the 450 members of the ship's company are working round the clock to prepare the ship to return to her search and rescue mission as soon as possible.
HMS Bulwark's commanding officer, Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, said "re-stocking water, medicines, humanitarian supplies and food, as well as clearing the mountain of rubbish, requires all hands on deck".
He added: "This week has already been the busiest of the year for migrant traffic, with fine weather forecast over the coming days, the surge of overcrowded boats leaving the North African coast is likely to continue.
"Yesterday, tragically, lives were lost, so the sooner we can re-set Bulwark and get back to sea to continue our mission, the better our chances of saving life".