Migrant boat blockade is ‘feasible’ says former Royal Navy boss

The new commanding officer of HMS Collingwood, Captain Rob Vitali. Picture: Keith Woodland/MoD

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  • Former First Sea Lord said plan to disable migrant boats is ‘difficult but achievable’
  • But he warns people smugglers would soon find another way in to Europe
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Destroying boats that carry migrants in the Mediterranean is a feasible plan, a former head of the Royal Navy has said.

Admiral Lord West said such action would stop the flow of people across the sea but warned smugglers would be looking for other routes to Europe within weeks.

Landing craft from HMS Bulwark approach a vessel carrying more than 100 migrants off the coast of Libya to rescue those on board Picture: PO (Phot) Carl Osmond

Landing craft from HMS Bulwark approach a vessel carrying more than 100 migrants off the coast of Libya to rescue those on board Picture: PO (Phot) Carl Osmond

He described European Union plans to approve a mission to destroy the boats used to traffic migrants from Africa and the Middle East into Europe as difficult but achievable.

His comments came as EU foreign and defence ministers continue to discuss how to deal with the crisis in the Mediterranean, which has led to the deaths of around 1,800 migrants, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

It follows intervention last week by Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark, which stepped in to save hundreds of migrants in ‘perilous’ conditions at sea.

Ministers including foreign secretary Philip Hammond and defence secretary Michael Fallon are reported to be due to meet in Brussels to approve the plans, with the aim of eventually gaining UN Security Council approval for military action in Libyan waters.

I believe a close blockade of the Libyan coast in these territorial seas is feasible and not too high risk and I think we could stop then the flow of people trying to get out into the Mediterranean

Former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West

Lord West said such an operation would be relatively low risk and would save lives.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It would be difficult but it’s certainly achievable and I believe that a close blockade of the Libyan coast in these territorial seas is feasible and not too high risk and I think we could stop then the flow of people trying to get out into the Mediterranean. That will save lives and it will dry up the funding to these dreadful people-smugglers.

‘And I think within a matter of weeks they would be looking for other ways of achieving it, which of course they will always try and do that.’

The peer said a UN resolution should be Britain’s aim, and he discussed the possibility of disabling boats while they were at sea before sending the migrants back to shore.

Admiral Lord West Picture: Tim Ireland/PA

Admiral Lord West Picture: Tim Ireland/PA

He said: ‘We should be aiming for a UN Security Council resolution.

‘I think we should try and deal with - there are effectively two governments in Libya at the moment which makes life difficult, and lots of warring groups - come to some agreement with them that we can send boats back into a harbour, and some way of disabling them, or disable them at sea and send the people back into shore.

‘We’d have to work with NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and I think also we need to put a huge intelligence effort into the money flows because there is no doubt that Isil and terror groups are getting money out of people-smuggling as well.

‘I think you need to track the money because that money often ends up in places like London and Switzerland and places like that.’

A government spokesman said the details of how to break up the smuggling networks remain under discussion and stressed that no British troops would be sent to Libya.

He said: ‘Discussions remain ongoing in the EU on the proposed common security and defence policy (CSDP) operation alongside parallel discussions at the UN Security Council.

‘We are considering how best to support the proposals to counter the smuggling networks but the details remain under discussion. The UK has no plans to send combat troops to Libya.’