Royal Navy Joins Migrant Interdiction Effort in English Channel

HMS Mersey on patrol (file image courtesy Royal Navy)

By The Maritime Executive 01-03-2019 04:14:27

The Royal Navy is set to join the effort to patrol the English Channel as an increasing number of foreign migrants attempt to cross the busy seaway to reach Britain. About 540 people attempted to cross the Strait of Dover in 2018, the majority of them in the last three months of the year. 

In response to this development, UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson has offered the Home Office the use of the Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Mersey, a 260-foot coastal protection vessel that is normally tasked with policing the UK's fisheries. "I can confirm that HMS Mersey will deploy to the Dover Straits to assist the UK Border Force and French authorities with their response to migrant crossings," Williamson said in a statement Thursday. "The professionalism of the Royal Navy means the crew have been able to immediately divert from routine operations to help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Channel."

Williamson initially asked the Home Office to cover Mersey's operating costs of about $25,000 per day, and the deployment was briefly delayed by negotiations over who would pay for the mission. 

Mersey will fill in temporarily while two UK Border Force patrol vessels make their way home from the Mediterranean, where they were previously deployed on a migrant rescue mission. Home Secretary Sajid Javid has recalled them to the UK in response to the uptick in channel crossings. 

"It is vital that we are working on all fronts to tackle this ongoing situation and I am grateful to Border Force and other agencies for the tireless work they have done in response to this activity," Javid said in a statement. 

However, human rights activists and opposition politicians warned that an interdiction campaign would not necessarily improve matters for refugees. "People will continue to die and be at mercy of traffickers all the time politicians pretend to play tough for votes rather than recognise why people flee," Labour MP Stella Creasy said. "The asylum system in France is completely deadlocked and I fear deliberately so - they should be challenged on that. But none of that means Britain can absolve itself of responsibility to refugees."