The Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark is likely to join migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday after spending last week docked because of a diplomatic issue with Italy over how rescued immigrants would be dealt with. British Prime Minister David Cameron had offered the amphibious assault ship last week to help rescue migrants in light of an international uproar after 900 died in one weekend last month.
The U.K. government wanted to ensure that international law connected to rescuing migrants at sea would be upheld. That means rescued migrants would be taken to the nearest safe port -- Italy.
A Royal Navy spokesman said on Monday: “We’re working through with the Italians about how it may be used, and once we’ve got that agreement we’re there to work on search-and-rescue efforts.”
Because of the ongoing negotiations, the Bulwark was not involved in this past weekend’s rescues when as many as 5,800 people were saved from an array of barely seaworthy vessels. Some reports suggest that the figure may be closer to 7,000, according to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper.
While 10 migrants were reported to have died in the crossing from Libya to Italy, a baby was born on one of the ships. The woman went into labor within hours of leaving the Libyan coast, said the Italian navy.
One of the fears that resulted in the delay, according to a Foreign Office representative, was that the Bulwark would save the migrants and not be able to disembark them at an Italian port.
“The prime minister was clear at the European council that Britain would be playing its role in tackling the current crisis in the Mediterranean but that our focus would be on saving lives, not offering people asylum in the U.K.,” said a Foreign Office representative. “Discussions between EU partners remain ongoing to ensure close coordination, and we are not going to speculate on any operational decisions at this stage.”