Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is understood to have deployed HMS Mersey to the English Channel within hours of receiving a request from the Home Secretary to help with what he calls a ‘migrant crisis’.
HMS Mersey, an offshore patrol vessel, is ready to begin work as soon as today with other assets, including aerial surveillance, set to follow, The Times has reported this morning.
Originally, the plan was to replace the Batch 1 River class (of which HMS Mersey is part) Offshore Patrol Vessels with the newer Batch 2 vessels. However, it was recently announced that all vessels will be retained.
Today @GavinWilliamson has announced that three Batch 1 OPVs – HMS Tyne, @HMS_Severn and @HMS_Mersey – will be retained in service and continue their important work around UK waters whilst providing a regular @RoyalNavy presence around the regions that share their names. pic.twitter.com/dWbDiFewu6
— First Sea Lord (@AdmPhilipJones) November 22, 2018
Last year we reported that Rear Admiral Chris Gardner, assistant chief of naval staff, said that the Royal Navy is “keen” to keep the ships. Speaking to The News Portsmouth last year, Rear Adm Gardner said:
“At the moment no decision has been taken about what their future could be. I’m keeping the ships in a state of operational readiness which means that as the future becomes a bit clearer post-Brexit, and as our requirements are more broadly understood, we will be able to make decisions about whether or not we will seek to retain and operate them as additional units in the Royal Navy or find some other solution.”
Last year, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence, Guto Bebb revealed that £12.7M had been allocated from the EU Exit Preparedness Fund to preserve the three Batch 1 River class ships, should they be needed to control and enforce UK waters and fisheries following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury asked:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, with reference to the Written Statement of 13 March 2018, Spring Statement, HCWS 540, if he will publish a list of where the £12.7 million allocated to his Department to realise the opportunities from EU exit will be spent.”
Guto Bebb, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, responded:
“The Ministry of Defence has now been allocated £12.7 million in 2018-19 for essential EU exit preparations. This will fund preserving three Off-Shore Patrol Vessels, should they be needed to control and enforce UK waters and fisheries. It also includes some EU Exit preparedness funding for UK defence bases in Europe. As with all HMT Reserve funding, finalised allocations will be confirmed at Supplementary Estimates 2018-19 in early 2019.”
Earlier in the year, Bebb revealed the running cost of the Batch 1 vessels in response to a written question:
“The cost of operating a River Class Offshore Patrol Batch 2 Vessel will be determined by the specific operational programmes of the ships when they enter service. We have used the cost of the current in service Batch 1 Offshore Patrol Vessels as the basis of our planning which is £6.5 million per year.”
There is a dispute however over who should pay the costs for the recently announced deployment to the Channel.