Cross-Channel smugglers posting deflated dinghies to France from Britain

The National Crime Agency says unscrupulous cross-Channel human traffickers are getting inflatable dinghies couriered over to Northern France to avoid a clampdown on light vessels as they continue to smuggle record numbers of migrants over to the UK.

More than 2,000 people have already made the crossing this year. The number of boat people making it to Britain is on course to triple last year’s record tally. On Wednesday, another 200 foreigners arrived illegally. 104 landed today.

French authorities, in collaboration with their British counterparts, have restricted the sale of rigid inflatable boats (RIBs), which became increasingly popular with criminal traffickers after lockdown was re-imposed, says the NCA – see extraordinary footage below.

Criminal syndicates get around the restrictions by having their charges send deflated RIBs over to France from the UK. Once a new inflatable is purchased it can be sent back multiple times.

Miles Bonfield, the head of the NCA’s organised immigration crime operations said criminals could “transport the boats by road, they can send them by courier company, any method to disguise the fact that they’re moving a rigid, inflatable boat across to the Continent.

“Law enforcement and our colleagues who operate at the border are very alive to this threat so crime groups are going to take measures to disguise the way in which they’re moving boat.”

Bonfield is reluctant to restrict purchases of inflatables in the UK through the introduction of licences. However, the courier revelation is just the latest indication of the canniness and determination of smugglers to get the resources they need to maximise their operations.

Yesterday, The Foxhole reported another NCA warning concerning light vessels. Businesses in possession of smaller boats were asked by the agency to ensure their property is adequately secured following a spate of thefts by traffickers.

Still, Bonfield is willing to acknowledge licences would be necessary if all other options failed. “This is one of the problems we’ve got because it’s not illegal to buy or operate these boats and there are lots and lots of legitimate reasons why people would do that,” he said.