British ship sent on Mediterranean migrant mission has not rescued a single person

HMS Enterprise replaced HMS Bulwark but rescues are not ship's 'primary role'

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 12 August 2015 08:00 BST
The HMS Enterprise is conducting surveillance work along the Libyan coast
The HMS Enterprise is conducting surveillance work along the Libyan coast (AFP/Getty Images)

The Royal Navy ship sent to join a Europe-wide mission to tackle the Mediterranean migrant crisis has not rescued a single person since its deployment.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told The Independent that search and rescue was not HMS Enterprise’s “primary role”, despite the death of more than 200 people in the latest disaster last week.

HMS Bulwark rescued almost 5,000 people during its eight-week deployment earlier this year but its replacement’s count for almost the same period still stands at zero.

Save the Children, one of the charities helping the survivors who reach European shores, criticised the UK for “downgrading” its commitment to saving lives.

George Graham, its head of humanitarian policy, said: “This is the peak season for people attempting the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

“While it was deployed, HMS Bulwark did amazing work saving lives but the UK seems to have since downgraded its contribution to search and rescue.

“European leaders need to refocus their efforts on finding a humane and holistic solution to the migration crisis.”

The mayor of Palermo, the Sicilian city where survivors of Wednesday's capsized boat were brought ashore, accused the UK and other European countries of "genocide" by allowing migrants to continue to drown.

"It's not possible to stop human mobility in the world," Leoluca Orlando told The Independent. “I think Britain is as responsible as other European countries for this genocide."

HMS Enterprise, a hydrographic and oceanographic survey vessel, can carry up to 120 people but will not conduct any rescues unless it is requested to or the laws of the sea require it to help nearby vessels in distress.

A spokesperson for the MoD said the ship was sailing on intelligence-gathering missions nearer the Libyan coast.

“It is there to understand situation, to pick up any patterns in smugglers’ movements,” she added. “HMS Enterprise can get closer to the shoreline and get a better idea of what’s going on.”

It is part of the European Union’s latest naval operation, EUNAVFOR Med, which was launched on 22 June to tackle human smuggling from Libya and North Africa.

The mission is currently in its first phase, conducting surveillance of trafficking networks, and will move on to search for and divert “suspicious vessels” before finally removing migrant boats from smugglers and detaining them.

Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said: “We are targeting the business model of those who benefit from the misery of migrants…we are determined to contribute to save lives, dismantle the networks of the smugglers of human beings and address the root causes of migration.“

Supported by 20 member states, the operation includes an Italian flagship, two German ships, the HMS Enterprise and its Merlin helicopter, as well as four more international aircraft.

The ship’s role has not been mentioned in the House of Commons since 23 July, when a written answer from defence minister Penny Mordaunt to SNP MP Stuart McDonald revealed that HMS Enterprise had not rescued any migrants.

Former migrant boats left in Pozzallo port, Sicily, as a memorial to people who have died crossing the Mediterranean
Former migrant boats left in Pozzallo port, Sicily, as a memorial to people who have died crossing the Mediterranean (Lizzie Dearden)

Harriet Harman, the acting Labour leader, had asked David Cameron for reassurance that the UK’s capacity in the Mediterranean would not be “diminished”.

“We will continue to have the capacity in the Mediterranean, with HMS Enterprise, to save lives,” the Prime Minister replied.

Announcing HMS Enterprise’s deployment in June, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said HMS Bulwark was returning to the UK for “essential maintenance”.

“We've always been clear that to tackle the migrant crisis Europe needs a comprehensive plan that tackles the problem at source,” he added.

“That means going after the criminal gangs, the smugglers, the owners of the boats – the people who are making money out of this trade in misery.”

The death toll for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has passed 2,000 since the start of this year alone.

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