CHANNEL MIGRANTS: UK maritime industry warned to look out for signs of people smugglers buying boats


THE UK maritime industry has been warned to look out for people smuggling gangs trying to obtain small boats to get migrants across the Channel. The warning from the National Crime Agency (NCA) came as a record 209 people in a single day were detected by Border Force making the crossing on Tuesday, April 27. They were found in nine separate small boats and a further 166 people were prevented from crossing by the French authorities.

On Saturday almost 200 migrants were intercepted by Border Force as they crossed the Channel and, on Sunday, four small boats with 92 migrants on board also crossed taking the total number to make the crossing this year to more than 2,300.

Around 8,400 made the journey throughout 2020. The rise in crossings has led to increased demand for small vessels to get them across the treacherous crossing. An NCA spokesman said: "Organised crime groups are known to target legitimate sellers of vessels and equipment such as outboard motors and life jackets, both in person and online. There are also incidents recorded of boats and equipment being stolen." Miles Bonfield, NCA Head of Organised Immigration Crime, said: "We’re already working closely with a range of partners in the UK and on the continent to target the supply of these vessels, but we are now asking that the UK industry helps us and report any suspicions they may have.” They are asked to look out for large Cash transactions, bulk and repeat purchases of life jackets, short-notice purchases and customers reluctant to provide addresses.

Lesley Robinson, CEO of trade association British Marine, said: "The NCA plays a key role in supporting the security and safety of the marine industry, and today’s warning about organised crime linked to small boats in particular is ultimately a safety issue and one that British Marine and our members take very seriously." Last year Priti Patel vowed to make the crossings unviable, but so far any measures taken have had limited impact. A Home Office spokesman said: "We are working closely with our partners in France to stop migrants from leaving French beaches and more than 2,000 people have been prevented from making dangerous crossings so far this year. "'We acknowledge there is more work to be done, which is why we are bringing forward our New Plan for Immigration to break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk by facilitating dangerous journeys into the UK and overhaul our broken asylum system." Chris Philip, Minister for Immigration Compliance said: "We are working closely with our partners in France to stop these unnecessary journeys and the ruthless criminal gangs behind them. As a result more than 2,500 people have been prevented from making the dangerous crossing so far this year, and we have also secured 65 small boat related prosecutions since the start of 2020. “There is more work to be done and our New Plan for Immigration will fix the asylum system, cracking down on the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk by facilitating dangerous journeys into the UK.