A WARSHIP in Portsmouth has joined a military operation to catch traffickers smuggling migrants across the Mediterranean and into Europe.
HMS Richmond is part of a fleet of naval vessels which have been tasked with boarding, searching and seizing vessels suspected of being used to refugees into the continent.
The crackdown, entitled Operation Sophia, is a stark change from the previous focus by the European Union, which has so far been conducting rescue and surveillance missions.
It comes after more than 2,700 people drowned attempting to make the treacherous crossing.
This year alone has already seen 130,000 migrants and refugees already cross into Europe from north Africa.
Speaking to The News today from the Tory part conference, Portsmouth North MP and armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt said it was vital trafficking gangs were targeted.
‘We really do need to put these gangs out of business,’ she said.
‘They are absolutely fully in the knowledge that many of their cargo will not survive the journey, including children, and they should face the full weight of the law.’
The EU gave the green light for the latest operation last month.
The Type 23 frigate is part of six warships patrolling international waters off the coast of Libya – the departure point for many migrant boats.
They are absolutely fully in the knowledge that many of their cargo will not survive the journey, including children, and they should face the full weight of the law.Penny Mordaunt, armed forces minister and Portsmouth North MP
Other ships taking part in the clampdown include an Italian aircraft carrier, as well as a frigate from France and other ships from Germany and Spain.
However, the task force is not allowed to chase the smugglers into Libyan waters, for now at least.
Mrs Mordaunt said she was sympathetic to many of those desperate enough to attempt the dangerous voyage into Europe.
‘It’s appalling,’ the minister said. ‘These are people that are double victims; they’re victims of displacement and war and tragedy.
‘Then the secondary insult is that their misery is preyed upon by gangs who are knowingly putting their lives in danger.’
She added that in the past few month, Royal Navy personnel had helped to rescue thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean.
‘We’re committed to ensuring that lives are being saved and the suffering that people have to endure is reduced,’ she stressed.
The news comes after the home secretary’s speech yesterday which focused on the number of immigrants entering the UK.
Mrs May said the government would be clamping down on those flouting the asylum rules.
But stressed that those in genuine need would always have the support of the nation.