NCA renews call on shipping industry against criminals seeking to secure small boats for smugglers

Organized crime groups are targeting the shipping industry in a bid to obtain small boats for people smuggling, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned.

The organization is urging businesses in Kent to seek out buyers who are willing to pay cash, transact quickly and care little about the condition of vessels and equipment purchased.

People arrive in Dover following a small boating incident in the English Channel. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA

Boat owners are also urged to take additional security measures to protect their vessels and equipment, and to report instances of theft or attempted theft of boats and equipment.

NCA Deputy Director Andrea Wilson said: “As the weather begins to improve, making small boat crossings more likely, we are taking this opportunity to strengthen our appeals to those in the marine and maritime industries for us help arrest those involved in organized human trafficking.

“Crossing the English Channel in these types of vessels is extremely dangerous, but the criminals involved don’t care about safety, they just see people as a commodity to be exploited.

“Tragically, last year we saw the fatal consequences of this.

“We continue to work with partners to target supply to these vessels, but we need the help of those in the UK shipping industry and coastal communities to do so, and I would ask them to report any suspicions that ‘they might have.’

A vigil in Folkestone after 27 people were tragically killed crossing the English Channel in a small boat.  Photo: Andy Aitchison
A vigil in Folkestone after 27 people were tragically killed crossing the English Channel in a small boat. Photo: Andy Aitchison

It is understood that the number of people crossing the English Channel by small boat in 2021 was just over 28,300 – after being just under 300 in 2018.

Reports suggest that in January this year, 1,341 people crossed the Channel, six times the number in the same month in 2021.

The Home Office will not give an official figure for the total number. A spokesperson said: ‘We do not provide running totals for small boat crossings.

Organizations working with those who have crossed the Channel continue to call for the creation of better safe and legal pathways to enter the UK. Without it, they warn that people will continue to make the perilous journey.