Up to 500,000 desperate refugees wait in Libya for illegal death boats to Europe

Chillingly, occupants of some packed boats have been told to scupper them if they see a rescue ship to make sure they will be saved, though many cannot swim.

Commodore Martin Connell, commanding the Navy operation, said: “This is the most grim ­situation you could possibly find.

“If I could get my hands on some of these smuggling gangs… they have no regard for human life.”