A FORMER First Sea Lord has expressed his doubts as a Portsmouth-based warship was offered to the EU in the fight against people smugglers in the Mediterranean.
Admiral Lord West questioned the move and whether it would inadvertently aid the human traffickers rather than stop them.
And he said the Royal Navy needed more ships to meet demand for international work.
His comments come as HMS Richmond is poised to go to the coast of Libya to stop criminals who are risking the lives of refugees by taking them on the perilous journey to Europe by boat.
While HMS Richmond, which has a surveillance system allowing it to cover vast areas, will be able to help in search and rescue missions, its primary role will be to board and seize vessels in the southern Mediterranean, the Ministry of Defence said.
HMS Enterprise is already stationed in the Mediterranean and the offer of another frigate to go after criminals was officially made at an EU force generation conference yesterday.
But Admiral Lord West told The News: ‘On her own she becomes part of the pipeline of getting people to Europe, which is not what she is meant to be doing.’
He believed Europe needed to be ‘much more aggressive in terms of sealing the coast’.
He added: ‘I think the navy is overstretched full-stop. We are in a very dangerous, complicated world and we have not got enough ships.
‘The fact we have 19 destroyers and frigates is a national disgrace. There are too many jobs for them to do.
‘If this becomes a permanent commitment, that’s yet another commitment. There are all sorts of other commitments in the world.’
He said a rolling programme of building one new ship a year was needed.
More than 2,000 people have died trying to make the crossing this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the crisis must be tackled ‘at source’.
He said: ‘We will not stand by and let this smuggling trade escalate. We will confront this criminal activity which risks the lives of innocent people every day.’