Admiral Lord Alan West urged the government to ‘carefully consider’ the risk faced by ships travelling the Channel as he claimed he could ‘take over’ a ferry ‘with five men – no problem’.
The former First Sea Lord’s warning follows the dramatic seizure of the oil tanker Nave Andromeda, which was captured by seven stowaways off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
Commandos from the Special Boat Service stormed the ship following a 10-hour standoff in the Channel, retaking the vessel in seven minutes and detaining the stowaways.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Labour peer Lord West said asylum seekers were risking life and limb to reach Britain’s shores as he warned hijackings in the Channel could become more regular.
‘The desperation of these people is palpable, as shown by the Nigerians who took over a tanker in the channel very recently.’ he said.
‘Having been a seaman for 50 years, I can tell the House that people will die in the Channel if they keep coming in these little inflatables.
‘What worries me is that people will have seen that the takeover of a merchant ship or ferry is not difficult. I hope that we are looking carefully at this.
I could certainly take over a ferry in Calais with five people with no problem at all; that is a real worry. Is this being looked at?
‘Are we taking precautions to make sure that it does not happen? The risks would be huge if that sort of thing happened.’
The statement came during a private notice question in the Lords following the tragic death of a family of four who drowned attempting to cross the Channel last week.
Portsmouth is one of the busiest ports in Europe and has a regular passenger ferry link with Calais, alongside other major EU ports.
Brittany Ferries, which operates routes between Portsmouth and France, has recently invested in an independent security review across its fleet.
In the summer of 2016, the firm introduced the first cross-channel ‘sea marshal’ patrols.
It saw armed French military personnel originally being winched on board by helicopter in international waters.
Marshals have since been travelling from port-to-port, boarding, patrolling and disembarking on foot.
A spokesman from Brittany Ferries declined to comment on the travel company’s latest security measures but insisted: ‘We have a comprehensive and robust ship security plan across our fleet.’