The National Crime Agency (NCA) has renewed an appeal to the U.K. maritime industry to beware of organized crime groups targeting them to obtain small boats for people smugglers.
The appeal is backed by a new social media and leaflet campaign, supported by Border Force and the charity Crimestoppers, which will spell out the warning.
Some of the signs sellers are being told by the NCA to look out for include:
- Buyers looking to pay in cash;
- Repeat or bulk purchases of boats or equipment;
- A lack of concern about the condition of the boat or equipment being purchased;
- Buyers wanting to complete transactions quickly, cheaply, or without a delivery address.
Additionally, the NCA are asking vendors to report unusual purchases of untreated plywood boards, PVC tarpaulin sheets and duct tape. These materials are often used by people smugglers to re-inforce or modify inflatables used in attempted crossings.
In December 2021 the NCA warned that crime groups were using ever more dangerous and un-seaworthy boats in efforts to smuggle people across the Channel, increasing the risk to life.
Boat owners are also being asked to take extra security measures to protect their vessels and equipment and report suspicious behavior, following cases of theft or attempted thefts of boats and equipment.
NCA Deputy Director Andrea Wilson said: “As the weather starts to improve, making small boat crossings more likely, we are taking this opportunity to reinforce our appeals to those within the marine and maritime industries to help us stop those involved in organized people smuggling.
“Crossing the 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, in the last year we have seen the fatal consequences of that.
“Appeals like this are an important part of our activity to disrupt these gangs and go hand in hand with law enforcement activity to stop them.
“We continue to work with partners to target the supply of these vessels but we need the help of those in the U.K. maritime industry and coastal communities to do that, and I’d ask them to report any suspicions they may have.”
Lesley Robinson, CEO of British Marine, the trade association for the U.K. leisure, superyacht and small commercial marine industry, commented: “We are pleased to be continuing our partnership with the NCA to help raise awareness of organized crime linked to the supply of small boats; and highlight the steps businesses and boat owners should take to protect themselves and others.
“As a trade association, safety is at the heart of what we do and I am confident that our members will continue to take the lead in this area by reporting suspicious activity and familiarizing themselves with the ‘red flags’ to be mindful of when selling boats and marine equipment.
“This is a vitally important campaign from the NCA and I would encourage all leisure marine businesses and boat owners to report any signs of suspicious activity and take additional security measures to prevent them becoming the victims of theft.”
Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, Tom Pursglove MP said: “There are safe and legal routes available for people who need to come to the U.K. Criminal gangs should not be risking people’s lives by attempting to cross the Channel by small boat and we are doing everything that we can to disrupt their dangerous operations.
Our close work with the maritime industry and partners such as the NCA is fundamental in breaking the business model of the heinous criminals gangs behind these dangerous crossings, who are profiteering from vulnerable people.”