UK Border Force to Deploy Nets to Disable Migrant Boats

small boat
File image courtesy Acabashi / CC BY SA 4.0

Published Oct 11, 2020 8:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK Home Office's Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, Dan O'Mahoney, is contemplating the use of nets to foul the propellers of migrant boats crossing the English Channel. 

O'Mahoney said that the new "safe return tactic" was very close to operational deployment, and he said that it closely resembles a tactic trialed by the Royal Navy earlier this year. The nets would be used to disable migrant dinghies' outboard motors, allowing UK forces to bring the passengers on board British patrol boats and return them to the French shores where they originated. The only operational challenge, O'Mahoney said, is that at present "the French won't accept them back to France."

Under Home Secretary Priti Patel, the ministry is also said to be contemplating the possibility of housing migrants in a variety of underutilized facilities, including idled passenger ferries, prisons and sites outside of Britain. The options discussed included relocating new arrivals to remote Ascension Island, a British territory located about 1,400 miles off Brazil. (This option has since been discarded due to logistical challenges, according to British media). 

UK officials say that as many as 400 migrants are arriving in the UK by small boat each day, prompting calls for new methods of deterring or blocking migration. More than 7,000 people have made the crossing to date this year, enabled in part by lower prices and more crowded boats. According to the Home Office, smugglers have been increasing the passenger count on their dinghies in order to keep per-person costs down and attract more business. With legitimate cross-Channel traffic down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are fewer alternative options for making the crossing, and more migrants are willing to opt for the risky choice of a boat transit. 

As the migrants pass through European countries before attempting to cross the Channel, O'Mahoney said that the government is encouraging them to file legitimate asylum claims earlier in their journey - like when they arrive in Italy, Spain or France. "You will pass through multiple safe countries with perfectly civilized and functioning asylum systems. Rather than paying huge amounts of money for facilitators to move you across Europe . . . claim asylum in the first safe country that you come to," he advised asylum seekers.