How super dinghies took migrant smuggling to a sinister new level
FEEDING through the choppy waves of the English Channel, this 26-foot migrant boat is proof that smuggling gangs have upped their ruthless game.
The military-style craft – pictured after entering British waters – is part of a new flotilla of ‘super-dinghies’ that are helping greedy traffickers make even more money.
And despite Â£ 150million of British taxpayer money given to France to tackle the migrant crisis over the past decade, the biggest ships are reaching these shores.
Fisherman Matt Coker, 41, who captured the footage in the middle of the English Channel, revealed: âFor the past three months smugglers have been using these larger military-style inflatable boats.
âBefore, there were days when there were dozens of migrants arriving. But now it can be hundreds. I saw up to 50 people crammed into one of them. And the more people there are on board, the less manoeuvrable and therefore more dangerous.
The larger boats – some as long as 36 feet and capable of carrying up to 70 people – suggest a new level of sophistication for gangs of traffickers, who seem able to evade French authorities at will. A British boatbuilder suggested to The Sun that smugglers could have the new inflatable boats produced to order cheaply in China.
While in a secure Home Office compound on the outskirts of Dover in Kent – where dozens of rubber dinghies seized by smugglers are stored – I saw a device made by a German supplier .
Although Interior Minister Priti Patel has pledged to make migrant crossings “unsustainable,” the inflatables seem almost as regular as the Channel ferries. Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: âThese big boats are the smugglers’ way of telling the government they can do whatever they want.
“Until we quickly remove all those who arrive illegally, the boats will continue to arrive and maybe get bigger.” Yesterday, Priti Patel introduced a series of new powers in the Nationality and Borders Bill to deal with the growing crisis.
She insisted: âThis legislation responds to what the British people have voted time and time again: for the UK to take full control of its borders. But critics point out that we have heard harsh words from the Home Secretary before, but migrants are still arriving in Britain by boat in record numbers.
These big boats are the smugglers’ way of telling the government that they can do whatever they want.
In the first six months of this year, nearly 6,000 crossed the Channel. A total of 8,417 made the trip in 2020, more than quadruple the number of 2019. And, as Ms Patel said yesterday, âNot all crossings are families with young children – 74% of those who arrive by small boat in 2020 were between the ages of 18 and 39, and 87 percent were men â.
Matt was leading a sport fishing trip when he spotted the dinghy with what appeared to be 11 migrants on board some eight miles from Dover last Tuesday. Dangerously crossing busy shipping lanes in the shadow of a giant P&O ferry, the group wearing life jackets cheered as they were retrieved by a Border Force cutter.
The Interior Ministry said they were among 150 people who arrived on four boats that day. And last week, The Sun spotted more new super-dinghies towed into Dover Marina.
Fisherman Matt wondered how such vessels had managed to prevent French authorities from leaving their beaches. He told The Sun: âI don’t know how they are not spotted. I can understand them sneaking out of the sand dunes with a small canoe and leaving in the middle of the night.
âBut these boats aren’t the kind of thing you can hide or throw easily on a beach. You would need a big group of people to carry the thing. These 40 horsepower outboards on the larger boats are very heavy. The French authorities insist that they intercept or turn back around 60% of all crossings.
But it’s a constant war against the smugglers, who are constantly tweaking their operations. According to a French police source, gangs send up to 40 boats at a time to overwhelm officers along a 90-mile coastal strip near Dunkirk.
In three years, the cross-Channel smuggling business has grown from an imprecise cottage industry to a Â£ 80million transcontinental organized crime operation.
These boats are not the kind of thing you can hide or launch easily on a beach.
French researcher Loan Torondel found that the average number of passengers in boats crossing the Channel increased from 7.3 per vessel in 2018 to 16.7 in 2020.
Gangs charge migrants between Â£ 3,000 and Â£ 10,000 for a place on an inflatable boat – although many are unsuitable for crossing the Channel.
Nearly 300 asylum seekers, including 36 children, have died trying to cross the Channel to the UK by boat, road and rail over the past 20 years, according to the Institute of Race Relations.
Undeterred, a constant stream of people fleeing conflict zones and oppressive regimes arrive in Calais every week. “The trade is now huge,” a police investigator based in the French city told The Sun.
âWe no longer buy boats here, but in certain regions of France several hundred kilometers away.
“This means that those who sell do not become suspicious.” An officer-led operation last month intercepted Sudanese smugglers buying boats in the Nantes area on the west coast of France, some 300 miles from Calais.
The investigator said travel “packages” were offered by the smugglers. Their clients were mainly Sudanese compatriots with whom they kept in touch by cell phone.
Once the money was paid and when the weather conditions were favorable, the GPS coordinates were sent. The migrants would find the boats and engines powered up, waiting for them with life jackets at a pre-arranged location on the coast.
Two men, both in their thirties, were arrested in France in connection with the trade last month and face up to ten years in prison. Police also reported the theft of boat engines in the Audomarois Marshes, an area of ââoutstanding natural beauty near Calais.
“Boat engine thefts are rampant around campsites in the area right now,” a police spokesperson said. Five were captured on June 10 alone, all from moored boats. There is ample evidence that they end up on smugglers’ ships.
As part of new plans announced yesterday, British border forces will be given new powers to return migrants to France and seize smugglers at sea. The measures are expected to include controversial new laws potentially allowing ministers to send asylum seekers. asylum in overseas centers while their claims are being processed.
And a new two-tier system will see those who come to the UK illegally have their status downgraded while those who come legally will be allowed to stay.
Clare Moseley, founder of the charity Care4Calais, said the government’s plans “would rob the safety of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
She added: âThe vast majority of refugees have no choice but to travel illegally. Dictators do not issue visas.