The Royal Navy’s flagship is ready to join efforts to ease the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean after it was held back amid “discussions” with European Union partners.
The Ministry of Defence denied yesterday that HMS Bulwark and three Merlin helicopters had been delayed and described the discussions as “ongoing”.
Previously, it had said the 19,000-tonne assault ship was due to set off on April 26.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “HMS Bulwark and three Merlin helicopters are now ready to operate in the Mediterranean, working closely with the Italian Navy, and co-ordinated via Rome.
“The 19,000-tonne amphibious ship will work in tandem with the surveillance helicopters to provide a wide-ranging search and rescue capability.
“The aircraft, from Royal Naval air station Culdrose, are currently stationed at the naval air station in Sigonalla, Sicily, to be called upon when needed by the Italian coastguard.
“Supported by over 80 UK personnel, including air and ground crew, they have commenced their first training sortie, to familiarise themselves with the area.
“From Tuesday, they will also begin flying operations with HMS Bulwark.”
The MoD said earlier today that the Prime Minister had made it clear to the European Council that Britain would play a role in tackling the current crisis in the Mediterranean but would not offer refugees asylum in the UK.
Discussions with EU parties were to “ensure close co-ordination”, a spokesman said.