French security forces conducted a helicopter boarding on a cross-Channel ferry on Monday evening, part of a general increase in security following recent terror attacks in France.
Three members of the highly-trained French sea marshals, a branch of the French military, landed by helicopter on the deck of the Brittany Ferries vessel Mont St. Michel. The vessel was on its regular run from Portsmouth to Caen, and the team came aboard just after it crossed into French waters. They patrolled the vessel and stayed aboard until arrival in France.
A Brittany Ferries spokesperson said that “access to outside decks was not allowed at the time of the helicopter’s arrival. The security crew travelled with passengers to France, where they left the ship on foot. Security exercises like today’s on board Mont St Michelgive Brittany Ferries an opportunity to practise its incident response in partnership with other agencies."
The French authorities have been ramping up security measures ashore and afloat following the attacks in Paris and more recently in Nice.
“[The sea marshals'] mission is to act as police on these ships, it is one of surveillance, dissuasion and, if necessary, intervention,” spokesman Lieutenant Pierre-Joachim Antona told The Telegraph. He said that the boardings would recur on a regular basis and that they were not a response to a specific threat. Antona told the AFP that a permanent unit had been assigned to ferries as of August 1.
The paper reports that at the moment, French security forces cannot board a ship in a UK port or in British waters, meaning that they may only land on the ship after crossing UK's territorial sea boundary. But authorities are negotiating an arrangement to allow the French marshals to board in a UK port and stay with the ship for the full voyage, a more economical approach which also gives more security coverage.