Migrants Libya: Contact 300 miles across the sea

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWhat faces migrants once they are on board the Bergamini

Thursday, over lunch, and it all started to happen. We had been giving our goodbye toasts to the captain and officers, since we had decided to transfer back on to the navy support vessel, the Etna, after a couple of quiet days at sea with the Bergamini.

Then one of the officers took a phone call and whispered into the captain's ear.

"OK, it's all changed," he told us, with a big smile. "There's been a contact 300 miles east of here, and we're on our way."

All we know for now is that there's a boat with migrants on board somewhere north of the African coast and south of Italy. We don't know whether they're in trouble. We don't know how many people are on board.

Image caption The Bergamini gathering speed

These are the unknowns the Italian navy has to deal with out here.

Also, right now, one patrol boat, the Sirio, is trying to help another migrant boat, this time to the west, closer to the Tunisian and Libyan coasts. About 300 people are on board and they're in trouble.

The Bergamini is sailing at 35km/h. That's 18 knots. We expect to reach the migrant boat just before dawn on Friday. Then we will have more details about who's on board and what condition they are in.

You often read about the Italian navy operation - and to be honest the impression I've had is that ships are on hand to pick up migrants from the Mediterranean at a moment's notice. It's simply not the case.

A boat can be at sea for some time before it's spotted or gets in contact with the coastguard. The boats usually have satellite phones with them and the numbers of the national coastguards, and they phone in their co-ordinates.

The moment it is seen the navy sends a ship to the area. Remember, the mission is to save lives so they take them off the boats before they get into any trouble. But as we are finding out right now, it can take hours - in this case half a day - to get to the scene. And anything could happen in that time.

Still, they are as prepared as they can be. And as I found on the ship, in a good position to help out as much as possible.

Related Topics