Lord West of Spithead has urged the government to retain the about to be replaced Offshore Patrol Vessel fleet.
Lord West of Spithead said dureing a House of Lords debate on UK border surveillance:
“My Lords, the Minister makes rather light of the real problem. There is no doubt whatever that all the departments and assets looking after our territorial seas and exclusive economic zone are not being co-ordinated at the moment.
I know that there are plans to move forward, but it is not being done. The intelligence from the NMIC, which was established some five years or so ago, is very good but we are not co-ordinating assets, and we do not have enough assets. However, my question relates to our British Overseas Territories, each of which has territorial seas and exclusive economic zones.
Indeed, we have responsibility for the largest area of ocean of any country in the world. In that circumstance, does it not make sense not to get rid of the offshore patrol vessels, which are relatively new, when the new ones come online, and to use those to look after these vast areas of ocean that at the moment are not being properly protected?”
The noble Lord makes a valid point about our offshore patrol vessels—and there are no plans to get rid of them. However, my point, which I hope I was not making lightly, was that the most effective work we can do at the border is intelligence-led work that is successful at pinpointing areas of high risk.
Recently retired HMS Severn is being replaced with a new batch River class offshore patrol vessel after only 14 years of service, all of her sister ships will be too.
New Offshore Patrol Vessels were ordered to fill a gap in orders after the second carrier and before the Type 26 frigates begin construction. Critics, the UK Defence Journal included, have raised concerns that they’re severely overpriced and lack important features, such as a helicopter hangar that other, cheaper vessels of the same type have.
The order and construction of the new OPV’s helped sustain hundreds of skilled jobs on the Clyde until the Type 26 build begins, ensuring that the yards remain viable.
The new Offshore Patrol Vessels were also described at a Defence Select Committee meeting a vessels “the Royal Navy does not want or need”.
The vessels will be used by the Royal Navy to undertake various tasks including border protection roles, including anti-smuggling, anti-piracy, fisheries patrols, and immigration law enforcement.