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Navy criticised for using vessels ‘too big’ for job of rescuing Channel migrants

Royal Navy HMS Blazer tows two small boats as it arrives in Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Royal Navy HMS Blazer tows two small boats as it arrives in Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Royal Navy has been criticised for being a “waste of time and resources” by using boats too big for the job of rescuing migrants crossing the English Channel.

Women, children and single men are among hundreds of people brought ashore on Good Friday as the Ministry of Defence takes over responsibility for handling migrants crossing the English Channel.

Royal Navy patrol vessels have been posted in the Channel to oversee operations after being put in charge by Prime Minister Boris Johnson from Thursday.

The naval ships have been spotted towing empty dinghies used by the people smugglers back to the UK after those onboard were offloaded on to boats operated by Border Force, which is part of the Home Office.

Portsmouth-based patrol vessel HMS Blazer, which is 21m long and 6m wide, was pictured towing two small boats into Dover on Thursday.

Military personnel waiting at the dockside in Dover have then been meeting the arrivals and placing them on to buses to be taken to processing centres.

Political commentator Nigel Farage has criticised the navy’s response as a “waste of time and resources” by using vessels which are “too high to pick up migrants”, meaning the RNLI and Border Force were still required to carry out the task.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

He posted on Twitter: “The new Royal Navy presence in the Channel off to a terrible start…

“The gunwhales on the vessels are too high to pick up migrants, so the RNLI & Border Force are doing the job instead!

“The Navy are then going around picking up the empty dinghies. Waste of time and resources!”

Mr Johnson put the Royal Navy in “operational command” of handling boats crossing the Channel while, under newly-revealed plans, those detained could be flown to Rwanda within weeks.

The MoD has confirmed that 562 people were brought ashore from 14 boats on Thursday.

These figures do not include any being intercepted by the French authorities.

A further 600 are understood to have been brought to the UK on Wednesday, but the Home Office has not provided figures for what was its final day of responsibility for handling Channel crossings.

This means the total of migrants to have arrived in the UK so far this year including Good Friday will be about 6,000, according to figures compiled by the PA News agency.

Conservative MP James Heappey posted on Twitter in response to Mr Farage’s comments that the MoD was looking at leasing “more appropriate platforms” for the role.

He wrote: “We’ve been clear on limitations of RN patrol vessels all along hence why we’re leasing more appropriate platforms.”

An MoD spokeswoman said that it will provide one offshore patrol vessel, up to six P2000 Archer class vessels and one wildcat helicopter with the aim of bolstering the Border Force capabilities until longer-term, more appropriate vessels had been contracted.

She said: “We have been clear that the Royal Navy’s role is to protect life at sea, providing operational oversight and co-ordination.

“To achieve this, defence is supplementing Border Force assets, expertise and experience in managing the journey and arrivals of small boats to ensure no one arrives on their own terms.”

An RNLI spokeswoman said: “The RNLI is one of HM Coastguard’s declared list of search assets around the UK for the purposes of saving lives at sea and is tasked by them as necessary.

“HM Coastguard is responsible for initiation and coordination of all maritime search and rescue within the UK Maritime Search and Rescue Region and will actively manage multiple distress scenarios, calling in the RNLI depending on the immediate needs at the time.”

A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment.

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