The Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark
Royal Navy flagship the HMS Bulwark arrives in the port of Gibraltar Getty

European naval ships, including HMS Bulwark, are racing towards Libya in an urgent mission to rescue thousands of migrants stranded at sea.

In comments reported by Sky News, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has warned that Europe needs to "get together and start tackling the problem much further back".

Speaking from HMS Bulwark, he said: "In the short-term, we need more ships from other European navies to come and help here.

"We need to pool more intelligence, we need to find out who is doing this trafficking, how they are making money from it, and we need to go back and smash the gangs involved."

Intelligence suggests that 14 migrant vessels may be on the open water, Sky News reported.

On 30 May, HMS Bulwark rescued 741 people – including dozens of children – from small, ramshackle boats, as part of the enlarged European Union search and rescue operation at sea.

The ship's commanding officer, Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, said he was sure the migrants would have died without help, adding that some of the children were "horrifyingly young".

The EU rescue mission is the latest in an ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

At least 1,826 migrants have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

According to estimates by the United Nations, at least 40,000 people have tried to cross the Mediterranean from January to late April of this year.

Many of the migrants have been traced back to the conflict and poverty stricken nations of Syria, Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia.