ROME — Naval vessels from Italy, Britain, Ireland and other countries steamed toward the waters off Libya on Saturday, bracing for the latest wave of migrants needing rescue from smugglers’ boats. British authorities warned that as many as 500,000 people could attempt the perilous crossing this summer.
Capt. Nick Cooke-Priest, on the British warship HMS Bulwark, told reporters aboard: “Indications are there that there are 450,000 to 500,000 migrants in Libya who are waiting at the border” for voyage from the North African country’s Mediterranean coast in hopes of reaching Italian shores.
Also aboard the Bulwark, part of a multi-nation patrol and rescue force, was British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. “We could see hundreds of thousands trying to cross this summer,” Fallon told reporters who asked about the captain’s half-million figure.
Italian coast guard spokesman Cmdr. Filippo Marini said that by late Saturday, some 1,900 migrants had been saved in nine separate rescues. Besides Italian navy, coast guard and other military vessels, two German ships, an Irish one and the British one pitched in to save the migrants.
Those were among the more than 3,000 migrants who had been spotted and deemed in need of rescue by authorities.
One Italian navy ship, the Vega, rescued hundreds of migrants from five boats alone Saturday.
Another Italian naval vessel, the Driade, rescued 560 migrants, and an Irish naval vessel, the LE Eithne, rescued 310 people, a day after it saved 113 migrants.
Citing figures dovetailing with those provided by U.N. officials, Fallon said that on Saturday, about 3,000 migrants were spotted needing rescue.
Fallon said Europe needed to “pool intelligence, get after the gangs themselves,” which are based in Libya and organize the smuggling.
“We can try to cut off their financing. People are making money out of misery, and we can do more there track down the money.”
About 170,000 migrants were rescued at sea last year by Italy.