Jet skis and kayaks used by migrants in dangerous attempts to reach UK

People smugglers are using bigger boats to maximise profits, police investigations show

Migrants trying to reach the UK from France through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes appear to have used a 25-year-old jet ski and kayaks.

Record numbers have been attempting in recent days to cross the English Channel.

A police officer was seen examining a 1990s Kawasaki jet ski, towed to the UK by a lifeboat, suggesting it was used in an attempt to cross the English Channel. The jet ski can travel for about ten hours on a full tank, reviews show.

The crossings came as French police were moving migrants from a makeshift camp near Dunkirk, in northern France, where at least 1,500 people gathered in hopes of making it across the English Channel to Britain.

Three migrants were feared dead last week after attempting to cross the 33-kilometre waterway in kayaks that were found floating off the coast of Calais.

Pictures from August of seized vessels showed a number of kayaks among beach boats and small dinghies held at the English port of Dover, which are thought to have been used during attempted crossings. Children's inflatables are among the unsuitable crafts found.

The National reported in August how smugglers were taking advantage of the sharp rise in the number of migrants seeking to cross the Channel, by cramming small boats with larger numbers of people.

Police intelligence reports had suggested an increasing trend towards organised criminal gangs packing more people on to bigger boats and launching them across a longer section of the north European coastline to avoid patrols and ensure greater profits.

But the use of kayaks and jet skis points to those unable to pay people smugglers being willing to take the greatest risks to reach the UK.

About 1,200 people reached the UK on Thursday, a single-day record since British officials declared a major incident over the boat crossings in December 2018.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel met her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin on Monday amid cross-Channel disagreements over how best to deal with the issue. The French minister blamed the UK's 'black economy' for encouraging migrants to attempt to reach the country.

After a series of barbed comments, the pair said that they would “strengthen operational co-operation further" to tackle the issue. The UK accuses France of doing too little to stop people leaving its beaches.

Mr Darmanin said 13 suspected smugglers were detained in Dunkirk on Tuesday, bringing to more than 1,300 the numbers arrested since January.

He also said that he ordered the dismantling of a migrant camp in a suburb of Dunkirk. Rights groups have campaigned for a halt to the removal of tents and sleeping bags from migrants during the cold winter months in northern France.

Some 2,000 people are estimated to be sleeping rough in makeshift camps and in fields in and around Calais, the main departure point for migrants heading to the UK.

Migrants, including some families with young children, could be seen packing their few belongings as police were encircling the camp, on the site of a former industrial complex in Grande-Synthe, east of Dunkirk. Several buses were lined up near the camp.

Aid group Utopia 56 said several evacuations of camps in the region have been organised in the past month with no adapted response to take care of migrants.

The group stressed that the state organised no food distribution and provided no toilet and shower amenities in the camps.

Local authorities have warned of dire sanitary conditions and overcrowding in the area, risks associated with the fast approaching winter and deepening tensions between migrants and traffickers that often turn violent.

Yann Manzi, founder of Utopia 56, said those clustered in Grande Synthe are primarily Iraqi Kurds brought to the country by trafficking networks.

Updated: November 16th 2021, 10:56 AM