Britain is to send a Royal Navy frigate to the Mediterranean to fight the smugglers at the centre of the migration crisis,Sky reports. HMS Richmond, currently in the Suez Canal, will be ordered to sail to the region.
She is carrying a Lynx helicopter and a Scan Eagle drone onboard, both of which will be used to search for boats. Richmond does not have the capacity that other ships have to rescue and transport hundreds of people.
Significantly however, she has a detachment of Royal Marines sailing with her who are trained to board suspicious vessels using force. Her deployment marks the second phase in the EU operation to tackle the smuggling rings.
It is understood that the commander of the operation believes there to be a number of smugglers operating from boats on the high seas.
Currently EU naval ships are staying out of Libyan territorial waters – 12 miles from shore. Richmond’s primary mission will be to target these boats, rather than migrant vessels.
Search and rescue will be a secondary role. Hundreds of migrants have drowned in recent months trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from north Africa to southern Europe, and from Turkey to Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
Although there is no authorisation for European forces to operate in Libya or its territorial waters, Richmond would be an ideal military asset if, or even when, that situation changes.
Pre-positioning her would allow for that. “The Royal Navy has rescued thousands of people from peril but we’ve been clear we have to tackle the gangs behind this,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon commented.
Although she will be formally ‘offered’ at an EU force generation conference in Brussels today, her new deployment has already been signed off by ministers in London.
Richmond will join HMS Enterprise and other European naval vessels operating as part of the EU mission. HMS Richmond is expected to arrive and start operations by mid-October and stay in the area for two months.