Just two Border Force cutters are in operation to patrol almost 11,000 miles of UK coastline, it has been revealed. Border inspectors looked at immigration controls at south coast seaports in a report published this week.
It found that out of the UK's fleet of five cutters – vessels built for speed to patrol large areas – two continued to be deployed in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas in response to the migrant crisis. Out of the three left, inspectors were told only two were operational and a third was kept on standby.
It compares to 600 cutters patrolling the Italian coastline, more than 3,000 miles shorter, and 147 covering Spanish waters, more than 4,000 miles shorter. The news emerged as 66 migrants were rescued from the English Channel over the last week.
Two cutters for the whole coastline is frankly ridiculous. We are hearing about more and more attempts to smuggle illegal immigrants into this country at beaches, inlets and small ports. We need more investment so the whole border is secure.
To see so many brazen attempts to break into Britain in one week is unprecedented and deeply concerning. That people are taking the risk of crossing such a busy shipping route on small craft - some even with young children on board - shows just how desperate they are.
The Home Office must act urgently to tackle this growing problem by boosting our borders budget and the number of vessels and skilled officers.
The report also revealed that despite purchasing eight Coastal Patrol Vessels in 2016, only two are in operation. Two were found not to be suitable due to cramped sleeping quarters, two were being refitted with suitable accommodation at the time of the inspection, and for the final two "nothing has been agreed". The report also said cutters' hours at sea dropped from 11,137 in 2015 to 9,497 last year.
Meanwhile Project Kraken, first launched in 2008 and relaunched in 2016, aimed to improve intelligence gathering from people working in the marine sector. Yet Border Force data for the south coast showed it had received only 49 referrals in 2016/17, with only two considered "actionable".
A previous inspection report recommended that Border Force rolled out a scheme to assess risk posed by all "known" unscheduled commercial vessels. Yet border officers at some ports did not record the ratings. At one, unnamed for security reasons, less than 1% (19 of 3,032) commercial vessels which arrived were actually met by Border Force officers.
We need to see greater investment in securing our borders – and clear plan to tackle the number of small craft landing on our shores. Otherwise evil people traffickers will continue to exploit the situation and more and more people will break into Britain.
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