Tactics long employed by smugglers operating in the Strait of Gibraltar have been detected for the first time by UK law enforcement agencies in the English Channel.
At least 18 people were transported from near Calais to Dymchurch in Kent in dangerously overcrowded inflatable boats designed for six.
When the rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) got into trouble, ran out of fuel and had to be rescued, the gang turned to the alternative of a three-person jet ski.
Had they not been stopped by a National Crime Agency-led surveillance operation, they would have been the first to have tried to run migrants across the world’s busiest shipping route on jet skis.
Following an Old Bailey trial, six men from the Kent-based transport gang and their Albanian “travel agents” were convicted of people-smuggling.
The court heard that migrants, including men, women and children, were charged up to £6,000 each to journey across the English Channel.
The criminals had little boating experience or knowledge of the danger they were exposing the men, women and children to.
While jet skis and RHIBs have been used to smuggle drugs and people from North Africa to Spain, it has never before been attempted in the English Channel, the NCA believes.
NCA regional head of investigations Brendan Foreman said: “These men were involved in a staggeringly reckless plot to bring migrants to the UK illegally and in a highly dangerous manner.”
“They were prepared to risk lives for the sake of profit, treating people as a commodity to ship across the world’s busiest shipping lane using small boats and even a jet ski.”
“Were it not for the intervention of the NCA, Border Force and other agencies involved in this operation, including the Coastguard and RNLI, I am certain there would have been tragic consequences.”
Judge Mark Dennis QC adjourned sentencing until a date to be fixed.