The National Crime Agency (NCA) has renewed a call for the UK shipping industry to be wary of organized crime groups targeting them to obtain small boats for smugglers.
The call is backed by a new social media and leaflet campaign, backed by Border Force and the charity Crimestoppers, which will spell out the warning.
Some of the signs the NCA asks sellers to watch out for include:
- Buyers wishing to pay in cash;
- Repeat or bulk purchases of boats or equipment;
- Lack of concern about the condition of the boat or equipment purchased;
- Buyers wishing to transact quickly, cheaply or without a delivery address.
Additionally, the NCA asks suppliers to report unusual purchases of untreated plywood panels, PVC tarpaulin sheets and duct tape. These materials are often used by smugglers to reinforce or modify the inflatable structures used during crossing attempts.
In December 2021, the NCA warned that criminal groups were using increasingly dangerous and unseaworthy boats to smuggle people across the English Channel, increasing the risk of death.
Boat owners are also urged to take additional security measures to protect their vessels and equipment and to report suspicious behavior following cases 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, over the past year, we have seen the fatal consequences.
“Calls like this are an important part of our activity to disrupt these gangs and go hand in hand with law enforcement activities to stop them.
“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.’
Lesley Robinson, CEO of British Marine, the trade association for the UK yachting, superyacht and small commercial vessel industry, said: “We are delighted to continue our partnership with the NCA to help raise awareness of the organized crime related to the supply of small boats; and highlight the steps businesses and boat owners need to take to protect themselves and others.
“As a trade association, security is at the heart of what we do and I’m confident our members will continue to lead by example in this area by reporting suspicious activity and familiarizing themselves with ‘red flags’ at take into account when selling boats and marine equipment.
“This is a vitally important campaign from the NCA and I encourage all yachting businesses and boat owners to report any signs of suspicious activity and take additional safety precautions. to prevent them from being robbed.”
Minister for Justice and Combating Illegal Migration MP Tom Pursglove said: “There are safe and legal pathways available for people who need to come to the UK. Criminal gangs shouldn’t be risking people’s lives trying to cross the English Channel in small boats and we are doing everything we can to disrupt their dangerous operations.
Our close collaboration with the shipping industry and partners such as the NCA is fundamental to breaking the business model of the heinous criminal gangs behind these dangerous crossings, which take advantage of vulnerable people.
Learn more at the National Crime Agency