Numbers of irregular migrants (IM) from various countries crossing the English Channel from France to the UK continue to escalate, with some 21,000 IMs having been apprehended off the south coast of the UK so far this year. Also, the French authorities have intercepted several thousand more on the coast of France or in its territorial waters.
Until recently, the UK Border Force (UKBF) relied for Channel patrols mainly upon a fleet drawn from its inventory of five offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) backed up by six converted oil rig rescue craft deployed as coastal patrol craft. However, recent reports confirm that this fleet has been discreetly supplanted by the phased introduction of a flotilla of four chartered early-model catamaran craft that were formerly operated as windfarm support vessels (WFSVs).
These craft are as follows:
|Name||Former Name||Builder||Year Built|
|BF Defender||Seacat Defender||South Boats||2013|
|BF Ranger||Seacat Ranger||South Boats||2014|
|BF Typhoon||Seacat Typhoon||Aluminium Marine Consultants||2016|
|BF Hurricane||Seacat Hurricane||Aluminium Marine Consultants||2016|
WFSVs were selected as they offer stability and increased carrying capacity. Their selection shows that the UK government acknowledges the migration problem to be a long-term one. It remains to be seen if the planned replacement of the entire UKBF fleet will include newbuild WFSV-type craft.
The introduction of these craft is the latest attempt to meet the challenge posed by mass irregular migration. Since April 2022, English Channel security patrols by the UKBF have been carried out under the overall direction of the Royal Navy. Under an arrangement scheduled to run until early 2023, the navy provides a search radar-equipped River-class OPV as a command ship along with four coastal patrol craft as well as intelligence support and aerial surveillance.
Obviously, additional resources and intensified patrolling have so far not yet solved the IM problem, but analysts acknowledge that it has probably helped save lives, as there have been no recent reports of missing or drowned IMs in those waters.
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.