Smugglers buy small boats directly from manufacturers

New information suggests that a large group of smugglers responsible for around 10% of Channel crossings have struck deals with manufacturers to supply them with small boats.

During a day of action on Tuesday by British and international investigators, 39 people were arrested and more than 50 searches were carried out simultaneously.

1,200 life jackets, nearly 150 boats and 50 motors, several thousand euros in cash, firearms and drugs were seized. More than 900 police officers were deployed in the operation.

The long-running joint investigation between the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands has been ongoing since November 2021 following the arrest of 16 suspects in France.

This joint operation follows a number of French-led operations that began last spring.

This culminated in Tuesday’s day of action which the National Crime Agency (NCA) says will lead to a reduction in Channel crossings for the immediate future.

Matt Rivers, regional head of investigations at the NCA, said: “Given the number of boats seized yesterday, yes we can expect a drop in crossings in the immediate future.

“Last year almost 1,000 boats crossed the English Channel, 135 boats is just over 10%, so we can determine the size and scale of the group from that.”

The full-scale investigation also revealed that the organized crime group had been directly supplied with small boats to use to cross the English Channel.

Carole Etienne, the French public prosecutor, said: “The investigation revealed a criminal organization with a very elaborate financing scheme. It is widely spread internationally with an impressive logistical organization, enabling it to smuggle migrants on small boats to the UK.

A series of raids took place in the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands on Tuesday (NCA/PA)

“The organization supervised the transport of migrants of all nationalities to the beaches, the transport of small boats from Germany and the Netherlands, the use of local accomplices such as car repairers, car salesmen, landlords real estate and drivers, and of course the Channel crossings themselves.”

Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Deputy Executive Director of Europol, said: “Recently, the criminal trade has increased and the network has developed its own logistics supply chain, acquiring boats, engines and life jackets directly from the manufacturers.

Mr Rivers added: “Work is still in progress, but everything indicates that the boats are manufactured and produced in Turkey or China. Many boats are of Chinese origin.

“The NCA continues to work with our international network to identify suppliers of these boats and see what we can do to stem this supply.”

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