FEARS that Britain’s Border Force has a ‘worryingly low’ number of boats have led to calls for the Royal Navy to step in and fill the void.
MPs have today highlighted the differences between the UK’s Border Force fleet – berthed in Portsmouth – to the capacity of other EU nations.
The Commons committee has also called for security to be stepped up at smaller ports amid fears they are being targeted by criminal gangs.
It comes after controversy erupted earlier this year when it emerged just three Border Force cutter vessels were being used to patrol the UK’s 7,000 miles of coastal borders.
By contrast, reports suggest Italy has as many as 600 boats for 4,700 miles of coast.
In May ministers revealed new measures to bolster maritime security, including making eight new patrol boats available to Border Force to supplement the existing fleet of five vessels.
It later emerged that while the first batch would be in place within months, full deployment was not expected until the end of next year.
Today’s report by the Commons Home Affairs committee said Border Force is ‘experiencing problems’ in accessing new patrol boats.
It added: ‘Only four of the new vessels are currently deployed and the remaining four will not be available for more than a year.’
Keith Vaz, committee chairman, said: ‘Despite maritime security being critical to an island nation, Border Force is operating worryingly low numbers of vessels to protect our borders.
‘Royal Navy vessels must be used in our sea war against the traffickers.’
Navy ships, including Portsmouth-based HMS Mersey, have already been used to tackle drugs and people traffickers in the Mediterranean.
A Home Office spokeswoman said they would respond to the committee’s recommendation in due course.
She added: ‘Our priority is to offer humanitarian support to those most in need while maintaining the security of our borders. We have already provided refuge for more than 1,800 Syrian refugees through our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme.
‘We are committed to resettling 20,000 refugees by the end of this Parliament and we are on track to deliver.
‘Through the Immigration Act 2016, we have also made clear our commitment to bringing very vulnerable children from Europe.
‘At the same time, we continue to work tirelessly to maintain the security of our border, intercepting attempts to enter the UK illegally and targeting the callous gangs that profit from people smuggling.’