A Royal Navy warship of the United Kingdom could soon begin combating human smuggling in the Mediterranean if European Authorities and the United Nations accept a Wednesday proposal by the British Defense Ministry. U.K. authorities were set to offer the HMS Richmond, a warship that has been used for search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean, as part of a solution to stem the flow of migration to Europe and protect refugees and economic migrants at sea.
Hundreds of thousands of people have arrived on Europe's shores since January, many of them taking dangerous boat rides with smugglers across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa or across the Aegean Sea from the Middle East. More than 380,000 people have arrived so far in Europe via these sea crossings, according to the United Nations.
The crossings are often very dangerous, as smugglers' boats tend to be overcrowded and not equipped with proper safety and floatation devices. Some of the boats are little more than rubber dinghies, and when they capsize in rough waters, coast guard authorities in southern Europe have come to their rescue. Local coast guards have not always been able to arrive in time and more than 2,800 people have drowned while attempting to make these sea crossings, according to U.N. data.
The aim of the HMS Richmond's mission would be not only to rescue people at sea but to target and prosecute the smugglers who enable these dangerous crossings to continue. Since the U.K. warship can only operate in international waters, it will patrol at least 12 miles off the coast of Libya, where many of the smugglers' boats embark. British authorities have said the smugglers are operating from ships stationed in international waters, and the primary goal of the HMS Richmond will be to target those boats, not the ones carrying refugees and economic migrants, Sky News reported.
People crossing the Mediterranean are often coming from Eritrea, Sudan and other areas of North Africa. The Aegean Sea crossings to Greece are more often made by Syrians fleeing the civil war, given neighboring Turkey's proximity to eastern Greece.
"The Royal Navy has rescued thousands of people from peril but we've been clear we have to tackle the gangs behind this," said U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, adding that "is why it's important the mission moves to the next phase."