More than 100 migrants were today saved from their sinking boat in the middle of the Mediterranean in a joint rescue commanded by the Royal Navy.
With Britain’s Flagship HMS Bulwark in the lead, the Italian frigate Carlo Bergamini and the Italian Coastguard Cutter Michele Fiorillo all responded to a mayday call from a large dinghy carrying 110 people – 30 of them women, including one seven months pregnant.
Shortly after 2pm [UK TIME] they found the 30ft makeshift rubber boat in a perilous state, taking on water around 40 miles off the coast of Tripoli.
After the Italian Maritime Response Co-ordination Centre in Rome took a mayday call from the migrants, it directed all three vessels to head for the dinghy’s last reported position.
For four hours they headed at full speed for the scene and, when Bulwark had the vessel in sight, she launched two of her large landing craft to pick up survivors.
Once safely on board the craft following a swift and well-rehearsed 30-minute operation, they received assistance from Royal Navy medics.
Two people were treated for the effects of dehydration before all 110 survivors were transferred to the Italian Coastguard cutter so they could be taken ashore.
The Italian Navy disposed of the dinghy, which was already beginning to sink as the rescuers arrived on the scene, while the landing craft returned to HMS Bulwark, which resumed her search for similar vessels in distress.
Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, the ship’s Commanding Officer, said:
We set out on Operation Weald to save lives and lessen suffering and that’s exactly what my highly professional crew of sailors and marines have done.
The rescue comes on just the second day of the Royal Navy’s involvement in the concerted international rescue effort to deal with thousands of people trying to escape North Africa in boats wholly unfit to make the crossing to Europe.
The Flagship is acting as the command hub of Operation Weald, with the staff of the Commander Amphibious Task Group on board to oversee operations, which currently involve the ship, her landing craft and three Merlin helicopters of 814 Naval Air Squadron.
Each of Bulwark’s four large landing craft have been converted into rescue vessels, manned by Royal Marines and Royal Navy medics and packed with extra lifejackets, food and medical supplies – to conduct searches and be ready to rescue survivors.
They will soon be joined by two Border Force cutters, Protector and Seeker, which are making their way out from the UK.
Image: Royal Navy