Home Office AXES Border Force boat fleet patrolling Channel for catamarans used on offshore wind farms

The UK Border Force’s fleet of cutters – patrol vessels meant to deal with small boats in the Channel – have been quietly dropped from service, a minister has admitted.

The cutters, purpose-built for tactical response work in British waters, have been scrapped in favour of a multi-million-pound set of private catamarans – normally used for servicing wind farms.

The move has left the new catamarans, which could cost UK taxpayers up to a whopping £36million per year, as Britain’s only patrol fleet in the English Channel.

In a shocking admission, Minister of State for Countering Illegal Migration Michael Tomlinson said the five cutters and further six ‘coastal patrol vessels’ hadn’t been used at all last year.

One of the Border Force cutters, Vigilant, which is set to be scrapped


2023 saw 604 incidences of small boats in the Channel – 90 per cent of which had to be dealt with by the catamarans, with the RNLI covering the rest.

At least three of the five British cutters were sidelined for extended periods last year due to repairs and servicing, which informed the Home Office’s decision to make the switch to the smaller catamarans.

Tomlinson said: “During 2023, the Cutter & CPV fleet did not provide assistance to small boat operations in the South East region.

“Instead, Border Force utilised a fleet of 5 Commercial Transfer Vessels (CTVs) – Defender, Hurricane, Ranger, Typhoon and Volunteer.”


Seacat Defender

A Seacat Defender, one of the wind farm support vessels set to be called into action

Seacat Services

The Home Office was firm on the move to scrap the dedicated craft – it said the previous fleet of cutters and coastal patrol vessels were “not suitable for rescue and recovery operations.”

“Alternative vessels are better equipped for the English Channel, and return specialist Border Force equipment to protect the rest of the UK’s border,” it told the Sun.

While Border Force officials are aboard the new CTVs, the small catamarans are mostly staffed by a private crew.

The cutters were specifically built for controlling general maritime traffic throughout UK waters, and were used for “strategic patrols, tactical response work, support for other departments and agencies, and participation in multi-agency operations in both UK and international waters”, according to a Border Force fact sheet.

Rishi/Cutter/Small boat

The cutters have been scrapped in favour of a multi-million-pound set of private catamarans

PA/US Navy

But they have been turfed out in favour of the catamarans – though just over half the size of the cutters and not as cut out for longer-term or heavy weather missions, the wind farm service vessels are quicker and cheaper to run.

The move comes after new figures showed more than 1,000 migrants had arrived in the UK via small boats in 2024 alone.

Though the Home Office has been keen to stress a year-on-year downturn in arrivals by the end of January: 1,339 in 2022, 1,180 in 2023, and 1,057 in 2024.

In a statement last week, it said: “Our priority is to stop the boats, which is why we have taken robust action to crack down on vile people smuggling gangs, deter migrants from making dangerous crossings and, alongside our French counterparts, intercept vessels.

Small boat carrying migrants

The Home Office has been keen to stress a year-on-year downturn in migrant arrivals via small boats


“This relentless action reduced crossings by 36 per cent last year, which saw similar weather conditions to 2022, and more than 26,000 attempts were prevented.

“The fact we have seen three devastating fatal incidents in three months highlights the unacceptable risks that migrants and criminal gangs are running in pursuing these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossing attempts.”


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