A French ship escorting a boat of illegal migrants into British waters was potentially breaking international maritime law by travelling without its transponders turned on, according to claims in a film by Nigel Farage.
Brexit leader Nigel Farage — once a British member of the European Parliament now engaged in a journalistic role to expose the scandal of illegal migrant boats and collusion between the French and British governments — filmed another handover in the English Channel on Tuesday, the second in a week.
In a serious development and apparent escalation by the French government, Farage was able to reveal that the French ship involved in the migrant boat handover in British waters was travelling without its AIS (automatic identification system) transponder turned off, meaning it wouldn’t appear in digital GPS logs or in real-time ship information management systems.
The push to ‘going dark’, in industry parlance, by the French Coastguard cutter came less than a week after Mr Farage was first able to expose the mid-Channel migrant handover involving French and British ships. Breitbart London was able to subsequently collaborate Mr Farage’s claims with publicly available AIS data, showing the French vessel had indeed met with British government vessels mid-Channel while escorting the migrant boat, but also that another French ship was already ‘running dark’, without a working AIS beacon.
Quelle surprise — https://t.co/YW7agECeb0
— Oliver JJ Lane (@oliver_lane) May 26, 2020
Farage said of the development: “we saw the direct handover last week, and we heard that VHF [very high frequency — used for maritime voice radio] signal saying ‘we will change tactics’ — so what the French naval vessel is doing now, is almost pretending he isn’t escorting it… they are doing all they can to try and stop us thinking that it’s still going on.”
In a ten-minute mini-documentary released Wednesday evening, Mr Farage described the appearance of the French ship shadowing the migrant “rib” (a small inflatable motorised boat), followed by the arrival of a British Border Force vessel, and a UK charity-funded coastguard boat to take the new arrivals ashore. He said in the piece:
It’s half-past nine in the morning, so far nine migrant vessels have been picked up… something very interesting is going on here. The video last week exposing the whole concept of a handover has led to considerable anger, pressure on the home secretary, conversations with the French. But far from changing what they are doing, what they have actually done is to become more covert. Number one by shadowing at a greater distance, but number two — and here’s the key — the French navy today had their AIS system, their transponder turned off so we can’t track them… So the whole thing has become even more difficult for anybody to capture.
The importance of the ship’s AIS transponder being turned off is not just a matter of what Mr Farage called government ships at sea “doing everything they can to try to conceal the truth”. Indeed, maritime law firm Gard notes that ships going dark by turning off their AIS is a significant “red flag” in a 2019 article, and while those engaged in the practice are trying to “avoid detection” it can tend to have the opposite effect by drawing attention to illicit behaviour — as it appears to be in this instance.
Number of Migrants Trying to Cross English Channel up 400% over 2018 https://t.co/hR7cZNelPY
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) January 2, 2020
The issue of transponders being turned off is also a matter of endangering life at sea. The installation of the devices in almost all seagoing ships is mandated by the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), giving ship masters and owners another tool alongside traditional navigation techniques and equipment, radio, and RADAR to stay safe and on course at sea.
An IMO spokesman confirmed to Breitbart London Wednesday that warships are technically exempt from having their transponders turned on, but even this goes against global best practice, which sees warships use AIS in crowded waterways except in times of war. The English Channel is the most crowded shipping lane in the world.
The importance of AIS was underlined dramatically in 2017 when two state-of-the-art U.S. Warships collided with merchant ships in a busy shipping lane within months of each other while sailing dark, as was then standard practice. The United States Navy has since changed its standard operating procedures and sails with AIS turned on in high traffic areas for safety and out of courtesy to other ships — exactly what the French now stand accused of failing to do.
91 Middle Eastern Migrants Intercepted in English Channel in One Day https://t.co/sRPj2Ti0lO
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) April 29, 2020
Breitbart London has approached the UK and French governments for comment on this story. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, UK Coast Guard, and French governments have all declined to respond.
As for what will come next, with no apparent effort by the British government to do anything about the illegal migrant situation — which saw at least 1,000 arrive in just the first two months of the coronavirus lockdown — Nigel Farage was clear. He said: “Here we are, it’s late May, there’s no sign of any of this stopping, and I think the numbers that will come over the course of this summer will justify the use of the word ‘invasion’.
“Twice in a week, we’ve caught the French navy acting as an escort for illegal migrants into British waters, and our border force — I’m sorry to say — effectively being complicit in it. They sit in Dover harbour waiting for the call, and out they come, pick up the migrants, say ‘thank you very much’ to the French and wait for the next call out.”