Navy Flagship Held Back From Mediterranean Mission Over Asylum Dispute

HMS Bulwark was due to sail last week, after it took part in centenary commemorations of the Gallipoli landings in Turkey, but its deployment has been delayed because of discussions with the EU

Published: 05th May 2015 09:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th May 2015 09:23 AM   |  A+A-

ROME: The Royal Navy's flagship has been held back from joining efforts to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, the Ministry of Defence said.

HMS Bulwark was due to sail last week, after it took part in centenary commemorations of the Gallipoli landings in Turkey, but its deployment has been delayed because of discussions with the EU on how best to coordinate the operation.

An MoD spokesman said: "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 UK.

"Discussions between EU partners remain ongoing to ensure close coordination and we are not going to speculate on any operational decisions at this stage."

HMS Bulwark is to be supported by two UK Border Force cutters and three Royal Navy Merlin helicopters with radar designed to spot small surface vessels over long distances.

Over the past few days, 6,770 migrants have been rescued from the Mediterranean. Yesterday a baby was born aboard an Italian navy ship after her mother was rescued from a boat off the coast of Libya.

The newborn girl was one of thousands of migrants brought ashore in Italy as a political row broke out over how to accommodate the exodus of refugees. The ship on which the girl was born, the Bettica, rescued 654 migrants from four boats, all of them sent from Libya by smuggling gangs.

The Italian navy, which released a photograph of the girl swaddled in a white cloth, said both she and her mother, who is Nigerian, were in good health.

"The mother was brought on board in dramatic circumstances - her labour was already starting," the navy said.

The baby was delivered by Sara Modde, a doctor with the Order of Malta, a Catholic charity that has medical teams on board many of the search and rescue vessels operating in the Mediterranean. Vincenzo Pascale, the captain of the Bettica, said: "She is a beautiful baby girl who has touched everyone on board. The mother started to have contractions as soon as she was brought aboard and gave birth after eight hours. We made a little crib and put it next to the mother." The mother and her baby were among 6,770 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean in the space of just three days.

Italy expects up to 200,000 migrants to arrive by the end of the year. Reception centres are at breaking point and regional politicians, particularly those of the anti-immigrant Northern League, are in revolt over accommodating the arrivals.

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