UK Royal Navy takes over English Channel migrant patrol

The Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel HMS Tyne (foreground) in 2011 (Photo: UK Ministry of Defense/LA(Phot) Kyle Heller)

On April 14, London unveiled a radical plan to cope with the surging numbers of irregular migrants (IM) making the short but risky journey by small boats across the English Channel from France to England. Regional holding centres are being set up, many landed IMs are to be flown out to Rwanda, and responsibility for patrolling the Channel been transferred to the UK Royal Navy (RN) from the chronically under-resourced UK Border Force (UKBF).

The RN assets are already patrolling in co-ordination with UKBF vessels and aircraft and unmanned surveillance helicopters of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. An RN Wildcat helicopter fitted with advanced radar and electro-optical surveillance equipment is carrying out daily sweeps of the Channel.

The offshore patrol vessel (OPV) HMS Tyne is acting as command ship in the Channel, operating with the P2000-class patrol boats HMS Example, HMS Blazer, and HMS Express. Three more of the class have been earmarked for Channel duties should the situation require it.

The 54-tonne, 25-knot P2000s, built by Task Force Boats and Vosper Thornycroft from the 1980s onwards, are usually deployed on a range of front-line, and training roles.

Interceptions of a number of IM boats were made within hours of the intensified patrolling regime being instigated.

Some 40 IMs are thought have perished in capsizes in the Channel over the past year. The new intensified patrolling policy will likely save lives, but it remains to be seen whether it will deter the criminal syndicates that are behind the hugely lucrative irregular migration racket.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.