The National Crime Agency (NCA) has renewed an appeal to the UK maritime industry to beware of organised crime groups targeting them to obtain small boats for people smugglers.
A new social media and leaflet campaign, supported by Border Force and the charity Crimestoppers, aims to highlight the ‘red flag’ warning signs that sellers of small boats should be aware of.
Warning signs for sellers:
- 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 reinforce or modify inflatables used in attempted crossings.
‘Risk to life’
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 behaviour, 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 organised 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 UK maritime industry and coastal communities to do that, and I’d ask them to report any suspicions they may have.”
‘Red flags’ to beware
Lesley Robinson, CEO of British Marine, the trade association for the UK leisure, superyacht and small commercial marine industry, added:
“We are pleased to be continuing our partnership with the NCA to help raise awareness of organised 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 familiarising 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 UK.
“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.”
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If you have concerns about suspicious activity report it to the independent charity Crimestoppers, either by freephone on 0800 555 111 at any time or via Crimestoppers-uk.org.
You will remain 100% anonymous.
Anyone who lives or works around our coastline, marinas, ports or waterways and witnesses something they believe to be suspicious can always call the police on 101, quoting Project KRAKEN, or visit gov.uk/report-border-crime.