British and German naval ships rushed Saturday across the Mediterranean toward Libya to try to help thousands of stranded migrants, the latest evidence of Europe’s alarming immigration crisis.
Two German naval ships took part in the mission, according to a spokesman for Germany’s Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command, including one that rescued 301 migrants on an unreported vessel on the way to the larger rescue scene.
The ships went to the main site and found seven boats packed with more than 2,000 people — far more than the 560 they expected — according to the command, which is part of Germany’s military.
The British Navy dispatched one of its own ships, the HMS Bulwark, to the scene to assist migrants on what they believed to be 14 vessels, the UK Ministry of Defence said.
The HMS Bulwark had two helicopters onboard moved toward the migrants at a top speed of 17 knots (20 mph), according to the ministry. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon had been on the Royal Navy vessel at some point recently, though it was unclear if he was still there Saturday.
The prospect of migrants being in dire straits in the Mediterranean is serious but hardly surprising. People from impoverished and war-torn countries such as Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea have been taking to the sea to reach Europe in especially large numbers of late, often putting their fates in the hands of smugglers.
Many times they haven’t made it. Hundreds of migrants died in April when their crammed 66-foot (20-meter) boat capsized roughly 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Libya. That got a lot of news coverage, but it didn’t stop the carnage — including dozens feared drowned after falling into the Mediterranean Sea last month as a rescue vessel approached, according to the aid organization Save the Children.
Both Germany and Britain are a considerable distance away from such tragedies, but not from the migrant crisis.
UK authorities said Friday that border agents had found 68 people — including 15 children — the previous night locked in containers aboard four trucks that came from the Netherlands to Harwich International Port northeast of London. Those found are 35 Afghans, 22 Chinese, 10 Vietnamese and one Russian.