A PORTSMOUTH warship 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 tasked with boarding, searching and seizing vessels suspected of being used to ferry 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.
The change of tactics comes after more than 2,700 people have drowned attempting the treacherous crossing.
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.
Type 23 frigate HMS RIchmond is part of six warships patrolling international waters off the coast of Libya – the departure point for many migrant boats.
Ms Mordaunt added she was sympathetic towards those desperate enough to attempt the dangerous voyage into Europe.
She stressed the UK was committed to saving lives and reducing the suffering of refugees.
This year has seen 130,000 migrants cross into Europe from north Africa.