Royal Navy rescues migrants

HMS Bulwark’s first rescue op.

Britain’s flagship helps save over 100 people in UK’S first migrant rescue in Mediterranean

More than 100 migrants have been 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.

“In a highly successful collaborative mission today, HMS Bulwark coordinated and directed the rescue of 110 desperate people adrift in the Mediterranean,” said Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, the ship’s Commanding Officer.

“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,”

He continued: “The sheer scale of the human suffering over these past few weeks has surprised many of us. When boats are overcrowded with people who are not used to being at sea, life can be threatened very quickly.

“HMS Bulwark, as the on-scene commander co-ordinated the rescue effort which included an Italian frigate and her helicopter, an Italian Coastguard vessel and Bulwark’s own organic boats and landing craft. In doing so she saved 110 lives at sea.”

Leading Writer Fernanda Agostini, one of Bulwark’s clerical and administration team (but crucially an Italian speaker), joined the landing craft to help with translation and assist with the rescue.

“The women were brought to safety first. Some of them were clearly distressed, but people were generally calm – there was no panic. They were obviously relieved to get on to the landing craft, where their morale picked up,” she said.

“Afterwards, we went up to their boat before it sank. There was a crate of dates, clothes left lying around. Conditions were not pleasant and the smell was horrendous.

“I spend most of my day behind a desk onboard. I’ve never done anything like this before, so it was an incredibly rewarding experience.”

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.

To prepare for the operation, masses of stores – including nearly 1,300 pairs of shoes, 700 sweatshirts, hundreds of pairs of trousers and tracksuit bottoms, nearly 800 blankets, portable toilets and showers, plus large quantities of medical supplies – have been embarked on HMS Bulwark.

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.

Based at Sigonella Naval Air Station just outside Catania in eastern Sicily, the Merlins are acting as Bulwark’s ‘eyes in the sky’, scanning thousands of square miles of the Mediterranean daily, and using the Flagship to take on extra fuel.

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.


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