Naval ships from Italy, Britain, Ireland, and other European countries have set sail towards waters off Libya in preparation of a new wave of migrants heading for European shores.
The Saturday move came after more than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Italy were rescued from rickety converted fishing boats off Libya earlier in the day while many more were reported to be aboard other distressed sea vessels in the area.
Malta-based private rescue mission MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) tweeted that it had coordinated the rescue of over 2,000 migrants along with naval ships from Italy, Ireland and Germany.
Italy’s coastguard, meanwhile, said that it could not confirm the number of those rescued but said it was trying to get to a number of other boats that had called for help.
Italian police officers in Sicily detained a suspected migrant smuggler who they said put only a few passengers aboard a small boat in an effort to land undetected on Italy’s shores.
This is while British authorities have warned that up to 500,000 migrants may attempt a sea journey towards Europe.
“Indications are there that there are 450,000 to 500,000 migrants in Libya who are waiting at the border” for voyage from Libya’s Mediterranean coast in hopes of reaching Italian shores, said British Navy Capt. Nick Cooke-Priest on Saturday onboard UK warship HMS Bulwark, part of a multi-nation patrol and rescue force that also include ships from Italy, Ireland, Germany and Malta.
Moreover, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who was also aboard the Bulwark, told reporters that “We could see hundreds of thousands trying to cross this summer.
“Fallon further stated that Europe needed to “pool intelligence, get after the gangs themselves,” who he said organize the smuggling in Libya.
“We can try to cut off their financing. People are making money out of misery, and we can do more there to track down the money,” the British minister added.
Italian naval commander Antonio Dovizio told state TV that ships from several countries were heading as fast as possible towards Libyan waters after a number of vessels carrying migrants were spotted.
Nearly 170,000 migrants were rescued at sea last year by Italy, which has urged its European partners to do more in offering it assistance to rescue and shelter masses of people fleeing poverty, persecution, and conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, with many rescued by ships from various European nations.