border force boat
HMC Protector, a Border Force cutter, makes her way up the River Thames past Canary Wharf Getty

MPs have warned the UK has a "worryingly low" number of patrol boats patrolling the coastline against people smugglers and has called for the Navy to help. Their report also said urgent improvements were needed in the security at small ports in Britain, saying criminal gangs have been able to exploit weaknesses to illegally transport migrants, drugs and weapons from the continent.

The report, published by the Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday (3 August), comes after it was revealed in June that the UK Border Force was using just three out of five cutter vessels to patrol the UK's entire 7,000 miles of coastline. One is in dry dock and another is deployed in the Med.

The controversy arose shortly after 18 Albanian migrants were rescued from a sinking inflatable boat off the coast of Kent, along with two British men later jailed for people smuggling.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the committee, said: "Despite maritime security being critical to an island nation, Border Force is operating worryingly low numbers of vessels to protect our borders. Royal Navy vessels must be used in our sea war against the traffickers."

In May, the government announced new measures to strengthen coastal security, including eight new patrol boats to boost the existing five-vessel fleet. It was later revealed four of these new boats would only be operational at the end of next year.

The Home Affairs Committee's wide-ranging report followed a year-long inquiry into how the EU and the UK had responded to the migrant crisis, which it said had been "unprecedented in modern times".

It criticised EU member states for their "lamentable" failures to respond to the flow of refugees, saying more efforts should be focused on deterring migrant flows and breaking up criminal smuggling networks, especially in Libya.

The committee also slammed the "atrocious" conditions in migrant camps on the continent, like the one in Calais, adding it has "yet to see any evidence of a strategy designed to deliver a long-term solution to the presence of the camps".

patrol boats
A table showing the number of coastguard and other patrol vessels in EU maritime countries Home Affairs Committee

It also accused many local authorities in the UK of "not pulling their weight" in helping resettle Syrian refugees. It said there was scant evidence the government would reach the target of resettling 20,000 Syrians by 2020, saying ministers "should show leadership by encouraging their own constituency local authorities to take refugees".

David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, claimed the report was "out of date".

He said: "We are confident that there will be sufficient places that will support the Government's pledge to resettle 20,000 people by 2020 and the focus must now be on ensuring families are matched to the right placements and that they arrive safely and are well supported."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Our priority is to offer humanitarian support to those most in need while maintaining the security of our borders.

"We continue to work tirelessly to (do this), intercepting attempts to enter the UK illegally and targeting the callous gangs that profit from people smuggling."