On July 5, a multinational team of investigators struck a long-awaited major blow against an international organised crime network that has been arranging passages for irregular migrants (IM) by small boats across the English Channel from France to the UK.
Following the arrest in London of a senior organised crime figure and his subsequent interrogation, a total of 39 mainly Iraqi-Kurdish people were arrested by law enforcers, sometimes backed up by special forces, at locations in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and UK.
Items seized include 160 inflatable boats, 50 outboard engines, and 1,200 lifejackets.
Investigators believe that, in order to evade France’s now-tightened laws on small boat acquisition, the perpetrators purchased the inflatables in Turkey. They then stored the craft in Germany prior to moving them to the coast of northern France, from whence they undertook the brief but risky voyage to the UK, with each boat carrying up to 20 IMs at a cost of up to €3,500 (US$3,508) per head.
About 11,000 IMs have crossed the channel by small boat so far this year, and the arrests are being hailed as a breakthrough in the continuing struggle against cross-channel people-trafficking, which intensive patrolling by vessels and aircraft of the UK Border Force and the Royal Navy has so far failed to deter.
Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.