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Jet skiers 'too smart to be holidaymakers' intercepted in Devon

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 17/08/2022 Charles Hymas, Dominic Nicholls
A Royal Navy vessel on patrol in the Channel off the coast of Dover. There are fears people smugglers may now be using jet skis to avoid being stopped - Gareth Fuller/PA wire © Gareth Fuller/PA wire A Royal Navy vessel on patrol in the Channel off the coast of Dover. There are fears people smugglers may now be using jet skis to avoid being stopped - Gareth Fuller/PA wire

Border Force is investigating reports that migrant traffickers may be experimenting with jet skis in Devon in the latest effort to avoid the Royal Navy.

Harbour officials have reported “suspicious” attempts to transport people on jet skis at Hope Cove, in south Devon. They were intercepted and stopped after failing to explain their intentions or provide the required identity documents and insurance.

Officials fear it could be traffickers scouting out potential alternative crossings, because of the Navy’s “blockade” with Border Force of popular routes taken by people smugglers across the 22-mile Dover straits into Kent.

The Navy deployment of patrol vessels, fast training boats, inflatables and a Wildcat helicopter with Border Force has guaranteed that no migrant reaches the UK across the straits undetected.

To ensure all migrants are picked up, Border Force has also deployed three crew transfer vessels, each of which can carry 92 migrants - meaning that nearly 300 people can be rescued at any one time.

It is suspected the traffickers may, as a result, look further west after 12 migrants were met by two large people carriers with blacked out windows 15 miles away from Hope Cove, Slapton Sands, Devon, before being whisked away.

One military source speculated that, given the 100-mile distance from France to Devon, it would require migrants to be transported by a “mother” ship before being brought to shore by dinghies.

Sean Hassell, one of the harbour masters at Hope Cove, said the four jet skiers raised suspicions because they were too smart to be holidaymakers, their story “did not tally” and they refused to provide the appropriate identities and insurance required.

He said their intentions were unclear but he added: “We are in talks with the Border Force at the moment. That’s all I can say. There have been sightings but everyone is primed to ensure we keep our village special and protected.”

'Everyone is keeping their eyes peeled'

The ancient village of Hope Cove, near Salcombe, dates back to Norse times and has two beaches that were once used as landing points for smuggling and for plundering wrecks. It is now one of Devon’s summer jewels for tourists in an area of outstanding beauty.

“In our village, everyone knows what you have done before you have done it,” said one local, noting the significant number of retired homeowners with sea views and telescopes helping to watch for anyone who got into trouble in the water.

“Everyone is keeping their eyes peeled and knows what is going on. There have been things out of character but because there are eyes on the water all the time, no one will get past us."

More than 20,000 have reached the UK across the Channel this year, double last year’s rate at the same time. Increasing numbers of Albanians are using the route, accounting for four in 10 of crossings in a six week period in the summer.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the ISU Border Force union, said: “The only reason to move west is to avoid detection. We are seeing an increasing number of migrants who are not your traditional refugees but simply exploiting the system.

“It’s fuel for organised crime. If you interfere with the main route, they will find another way to bring them in to fuel organised crime.”

A Home Office spokesman said Border Force vessels, cutters and other maritime assets maintained a permanent presence around the UK to protect its borders.

“Our dedicated coastal crime reporting service, in partnership with Crimestoppers, also means the general public and anyone working in maritime locations and businesses can report any suspicious behaviour 100 per cent anonymously,” added the spokesman.

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