Royal Navy to send drones to the Mediterranean to save migrants
From The Telegraph
Unarmed surveillance drones could be sent to search for dangerously overloaded boats packed with people making the perilous crossing from Libya to Europe
Royal Navy ship-launched surveillance drones could be sent to scour the Mediterranean as part of Britain’s effort to combat the migrant crisis, under plans being considered by defence chiefs.
The Navy’s new ScanEagle remote-controlled aircraft would search for dangerously overloaded boats packed with people making the perilous crossing from Libya to Europe.
David Cameron has already offered HMS Bulwark, two Border Force cutters and three Merlin helicopters for search and rescue efforts after international outcry at the loss of life in the Mediterranean this year.
More than 1,750 migrants have perished trying to make the crossing in 2015, a 30-fold increase on the same period last year.
Sources said the Type 23 frigate HMS Kent, currently in the Gulf, could be moved to take part in the operation and bring its new ScanEagle drones for use in the search.
The unarmed drone is catapulted into flight by a 14ft ramp and can remain airborne for 12 hours. The aircraft can fly at ranges of up to 40 miles from its ship and beams back live video, day or night, directly into the ship’s operations room.
One Whitehall source described the ScanEagle as a potential “life saver”.
He said: “We are operating the ScanEagle in the Gulf. It is a well-established system. Frigates are designed to take them”.
ScanEagle is operated by 700X Naval Air Squadron, nicknamed the X Men, and has been used to hunt for pirates, mines and drug runners since it was introduced in 2013.
HMS Bulwark, an amphibious command and control ship, will help coordinate the effort in the Mediterranean’s busy sea lanes.
The source said: “Bulwark will be good at directing assets towards a vessel that needs rescuing. It is about co-ordination.”
EU leaders last week said they would triple funding for rescue operations aimed at migrant boats in the Mediterranean, following outcry after a boat capsized killing as many as 850 people. Only 28 survivors were recovered from the overloaded fishing boat that had set sail from Libya.
European countries scaled back search and rescue operations last year and Britain said it believed they were acting as a “pull factor”, encouraging more people to attempt the dangerous voyage.
Libya has become a main thoroughfare for migrants trying to reach Europe and a haven for people trafficking gangs. Thousands pass through the country each week from countries including Syria, Eritrea, Mali and Nigeria.
David Cameron and other EU leaders have said they will smash the people trafficking gangs, but have given little detail of how it might be done.
One Naval source said any kind of blockade to try to turn migrants back would be an “enormous task”.
Meanwhile, the family of the Tunisian man accused of piloting the migrant boat that sank off Libya have said he was forced at gunpoint to captain the doomed vessel.
Italian authorities say the man named in court as Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, was in charge of the heavily overloaded fishing boat that capsized shortly before midnight on April 18 with hundreds of African and Bangladeshi migrants locked below deck.