More than 600 migrants rescued by the British navy as part of the enlarged European Union search and rescue operation at sea were taken to port in Sicily on Thursday (14 April).

HMS Bulwark, the Royal Navy flagship, picked up more than 400 migrants 40 nautical miles off the coast of Libya on Wednesday (13 May).

They were brought in from four inflatable boats, which each had more than 100 people on board including pregnant women and children, the navy said. The operation started in the early hours of Wednesday morning, with eight landing craft contributing to the search and rescue effort.

The other 200 migrants aboard the Bulwark were saved earlier in the week. Altogether the Bulwark rescued 617 migrants. Most of the migrants were of Somalian and Nigerian origin, officials in port said.

Almost 3,600 migrants have been rescued from overcrowded boats as they sought to reach Europe from Africa over the past 48 hours, Italy's coastguard said on Thursday, as sea conditions were perfect for attempting the sea crossing.

With the estimated number of migrant deaths at sea this year approaching 2,000, and after about 800 died in a single shipwreck last month, the EU has bolstered its Triton sea mission to help Italy conduct the rescues.