72 arrested in people smuggling probe after police intercept fishing boat

18 November 2020, 19:51

The NCA and Essex police intercepted the boat
The NCA and Essex police intercepted the boat. Picture: NCA

By Maddie Goodfellow

72 people have been arrested in a people smuggling probe after they were found crammed on a 30-metre fishing boat off the East Anglia coast.

The 69 migrants, who were all Albanian, as well as three crew members, were all taken into custody after the vessel sailed the night before from Ostend in Belgium.

The migrants are being questioned about alleged immigration offences, with the crew members - two Ukrainians and a Latvian - being questioned on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.

Officers intercepted the vessel off the coast of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, on the evening of 17 November, and found the migrants hidden beneath the deck.

The interception was part of a joint operation between the NCA, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force.

A search of the vessel is still ongoing.

NCA deputy director of investigations Craig Naylor said: "This was clearly a significant incident and a significant attempt to breach the UK's border controls.

"Our investigation into this attempt continues, and I'd like to thank our partners at Essex Police, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement for all they did last night and their ongoing work in support of our investigation going forward.

"Working with our partners we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle people-smuggling networks, and prevent them from exploiting migrants for profit.

"Our aim is to target those who cause harm, safeguard those who are most vulnerable while securing the United Kingdom's borders."

Priti Patel said it was a "big win for our intelligence and law enforcement agencies"
Priti Patel said it was a "big win for our intelligence and law enforcement agencies". Picture: PA

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "I've been clear that I'll use every arm of the law to break up the ruthless gangs who facilitate this criminal activity.

"Yesterday's operation was a big win for our intelligence and law enforcement agencies who have halted a serious illegal enterprise and cut off a source of funding for an organised criminal gang.

"We are unapologetically returning migrants who have no right to stay in the UK to safe countries with flights every week and will do whatever we can to make this route unviable.

"My thanks go to all our operational partners for their role in the important criminal investigation."