Of­fi­cials: 500,000 could try per­ilous cross­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - FROM PAGE ONE - BY FRANCES D’EMILIO

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.

About 170,000 mi­grants were res­cued at sea last year by Italy.

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