POWERING through the choppy Channel waves, this 26ft migrant boat is proof the smuggling gangs have upped their ruthless game.
The military-style craft — pictured after entering UK waters — is part of a new flotilla of “super-dinghies” that allow greedy traffickers to rake in even more money.
A 26ft migrant boat capable of carrying up to 70 people was pictured entering UK watersCredit: Chris Eades
And despite £150million of UK taxpayers’ cash given to France to tackle the migrant crisis over the last decade, the bigger boats are reaching these shores.
Fisherman Matt Coker, 41, who captured the images mid-Channel, revealed: “In the last three months the smugglers have been using these bigger, military-style rubber boats.
“Before, you’d have days when there were scores of migrants arriving. But now it can be hundreds. I’ve seen as many as 50 people packed on to one of them. And the more people on board, the less manoeuvrable, and so more dangerous, they are.”
The larger boats — some as long as 36ft and capable of carrying up to 70 people — suggest a new level of sophistication by trafficking gangs, who appear able to evade French authorities at will. One UK boat manufacturer suggested to The Sun that the smugglers may be having the new dinghies produced to order cheaply in China.
Fisherman Matt Coker, 41, says: ‘In the last three months the smugglers have been using these bigger, military-style rubber boats’Credit: Steve Finn
While at a secure Home Office compound on the outskirts of Dover in Kent — where dozens of smugglers’ seized inflatables are stored — I saw a craft made by a German supplier.
Despite Home Secretary Priti Patel pledging to make the migrant crossings “unviable”, the inflatables almost seem as regular as Channel ferries. Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “These large boats are the smugglers’ way of telling the Government that they can do what they like.
“Until we quickly return all those who arrive illegally, the boats will keep coming and possibly get bigger.” Yesterday, Priti Patel introduced a range of new powers in the Nationality And Borders Bill to tackle the growing crisis.
She insisted: “This legislation delivers on what the British people have voted for time and time again: For the UK to take full control of its borders.” But critics point out we have heard tough words from the Home Secretary before, yet migrants are still arriving in Britain by boat in record numbers.
These large boats are the smugglers’ way of telling the Government that they can do what they like.
In the first six months of this year almost 6,000 crossed the Channel. A total of 8,417 made the journey in 2020, more than quadruple the number for 2019. And, as Ms Patel said yesterday, “Not all crossings are families with young children — 74 per cent of those arriving by small boat in 2020 were aged between 18 and 39, and 87 per cent were male”.
Matt was leading a sport fishing trip when he spotted the dinghy with what appeared to be 11 migrants on board it some eight miles off Dover last Tuesday. Perilously crossing busy shipping lanes in the shadow of a giant P&O ferry, the group wearing life jackets cheered as they were picked up by a Border Force cutter.
The Home Office said that they were among 150 people who had arrived on four boats that day. And last week, The Sun spotted more of the new super-dinghies being towed into Dover Marina.
Fisherman Matt questioned how such large vessels managed to avoid the French authorities leaving their beaches. He told The Sun: “I don’t know how they aren’t getting spotted. I can understand them sneaking out of the sand dunes with a little dinghy and leaving in the middle of the night.
The military-style craft is part of a new flotilla of ‘super-dinghies’ which smugglers are now usingCredit: Chris Eades
Home Secretary Priti Patel has pledged to make the migrant crossings ‘unviable’Credit: Getty
“But these boats aren’t the sort of thing you can hide or launch off a beach easily. You’d need a big group of people to carry the thing. Those 40- horsepower outboards on the bigger boats are very heavy.” French authorities insist they intercept or turn back around 60 per cent of all crossings.
But it is a constant war against the smugglers, who are persistently finessing their operations. According to a French law-enforcement source, the gangs send out as many as 40 boats a time to overwhelm officers along a 90-mile stretch of coastline near Dunkirk.
In three years, the cross-Channel smuggling business has developed from an imprecise cottage industry to an £80million trans-Continental organised crime operation.
These boats aren’t the sort of thing you can hide or launch off a beach easily.
French researcher Loan Torondel found the average number of passengers in boats crossing the Channel rose from 7.3 per vessel in 2018 to 16.7 in 2020.
Gangs charge migrants between £3,000 and £10,000 for a place on an inflatable craft — though many are unsuitable for crossing the Channel.
Almost 300 asylum seekers, including 36 children, have died trying to cross the Channel to the UK by boat, road transport and rail in the past 20 years, according to the Institute of Race Relations.
Undeterred, a steady flow 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 town told The Sun.
“Boats are not bought around here any more, but in parts of France many hundreds of kilometres away.
The boats, most likely produced in China, suggest a new level of sophistication by gangs who appear to evade French authorities at willCredit: Chris Eades
According to a French law-enforcement source, the gangs send out as many as 40 boats a time to overwhelm officersCredit: Chris Eades
“This means that those selling do not become suspicious.” An operation by officers last month intercepted Sudanese smugglers buying boats in the Nantes region, on France’s west coast, some 300 miles from Calais.
The investigator said that travel “packages” were being offered by the smugglers. Their customers were mainly fellow Sudanese, whom they kept in touch with by mobile phone.
Once cash was paid, and when weather conditions were right, GPS co-ordinates were sent. The migrants would find the boats, and fuelled motors, waiting for them together with life jackets at a pre-arranged spot 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 have also reported boat engines being stolen in the Audomarois marshes, an area of outstanding natural beauty close to Calais.
“Boat engine thefts are non-stop around campsites in the area at the moment,” said a police spokesman. Five were taken on June 10 alone — all of them from moored boats. There is plenty of evidence they end up on the smuggler boats.”
Under new plans announced yesterday, Britain’s Border Force will be given new powers to send migrants back to France and seize people smugglers at sea. Measures are expected to include controversial new laws potentially allowing ministers to send asylum seekers to overseas centres while their claims are processed.
Under new plans, Britain’s Border Force will be given powers to send migrants back to FranceCredit: Chris Eades
Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais, said: ‘The vast majority of refugees have no choice but to travel illegally’Credit: Chris Eades
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 given permission to stay.
Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais, said the Government’s plans will “deny safety to some of the world’s most vulnerable people”.
She added: “The vast majority of refugees have no choice but to travel illegally. Dictators don’t issue visas.”