Navy ship heads to rescue migrants
A Royal Navy warship was heading towards Libya today in another mission to rescue migrants trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.
A week ago HMS Bulwark plucked 747 people from dangerously overcrowded boats in waters off the north African country.
Today it was sailing back towards Libya on a search and rescue operation, the Ministry of Defence said. It was not clear when it would take place.
Sky News, which is represented on the ship, said Bulwark was sailing "at top speed" to take part in an operation to save thousands of migrants stranded at sea.
It reported that all European naval ships in the region were ordered to go to the area, and that in telligence suggested up to 14 migrant vessels were on the open water.
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 crossing.
Many are fleeing war in Libya, where Islamic State fighters are terrorising the population, fuelling instability in the war-torn country.
Yesterday an Irish Navy ship, the LE Eithne, successfully located and rescued a small craft with 113 people on board that was in distress 40 km north of Tripoli, Libya.
The men, women and children were transferred to an Italian ship for onward passage to a port of safety.
This was the fifth successful operation the ship has undertaken since leaving Cork, bringing the total of migrants saved since commencing operations to 756.
The LE Eithne today successfully located and rescued a barge with about 310 people on board, approximately 30 miles north of the city of Zuwarah, Libya, after they had initiated a distress call.
Weather conditions at the time were difficult, with dense fog hampering the operation.
The people saved were 212 men, 59 women and 39 minors.
The ship has resumed patrol and is expecting further operations in the coming hours.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "HMS Bulwark has been called upon to assist with an ongoing and developing search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean. The two Merlin helicopters embarked on board from 814 Squadron have already been actively involved, and have identified a number of migrant boats in need of assistance today."
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon visited the ship today and told Sky News: "We could see migration attempted on a colossal scale, hundreds of thousands of people, if Europe does not get together and start tackling the problem much further back.
"In the short term, we need more ships from other European navies to come and help here, we need to pool more intelligence, we need to find out who is doing this trafficking, how they are making money from it, and we need to go back and smash the gangs themselves."