UK

HMS Bulwark arrives in Italy with 1,200 rescued migrants

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Media captionJonathan Beale reports from on board HMS Bulwark

Royal Navy warship HMS Bulwark has arrived in an Italian port, carrying 1,200 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.

The ship docked at Catania, in Sicily, where the migrants will be handed over to the Italian authorities.

Bulwark, which has been on a search and rescue mission in the area for the past month, rescued the migrants on Sunday.

Captain Nick Cooke-Priest said the people traffickers were committing acts "tantamount to murder".

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale, who was on board Bulwark during the rescue, said a small, wooden vessel had been packed with about 400 people.

There also had been two rubber dinghies, each carrying about 100 people, trying to get to Europe from Libya.

"The fact that many didn't even have life jackets was another reminder that the gangs who trafficked them had little regard for their lives," he said.

He added that five of the men rescued were going to be questioned by Italian police about possible links to the smuggling gangs.

The BBC's Clive Myrie, who is in Catania, said it would take several hours to disembark all the migrants from HMS Bulwark.

"They are exhausted, some are traumatised and several are pregnant, so it is going to take a long time," he said.

"Once on dry land, they are taken to reception centres across the country but it could be years before they receive papers saying they can live and work freely in Italy.

"As for HMS Bulwark, in the early hours it will head out to sea on the lookout for more migrant boats."

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Image caption Migrants disembark from HMS Bulwark
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Image caption Captain Nick Cooke-Priest said the migrants were picked up trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya

The ship's captain said Sunday was a "complex" day of seven search and rescue operations, and a "huge success".

"Normally we would be putting Royal Marines and sailors on to hostile shores," he told the BBC.

"The only difference with what we were doing yesterday was we weren't putting my own people into harm's way. We were actually taking survivors out of their harm's way and recovering them to HMS Bulwark."

He added the traffickers who sent "women, children, the old, young, pregnant out on a very perilous journey in unseaworthy vessels" were a "scourge".

The UK government dispatched the ship amid a rise in the number of people dying while trying to reach Europe.

The latest rescue brings the total number of individuals saved by HMS Bulwark so far to more than 2,700. Last week, Bulwark rescued 747 people from boats off Libya's coast.

The 19,000-tonne assault ship is one of numerous European vessels on rescue patrol in the Mediterranean.

They are patrolling about 70,000 sq miles of the central Mediterranean, looking for people including those fleeing Africa and trying to get to Europe.

It is estimated more than 1,600 people have drowned so far this year trying to make the dangerous crossing.

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