Migrants suspected of smuggling weapons on boats heading for the south coast triggered a major security alert in the English Channel over the weekend.
Amid a record number of arrivals on Saturday, the French alerted British intelligence to the possibility of firearms on one or more of the ships that had left northern France.
The warning was relayed to British border forces and coast guards by the National Crime Agency, the British equivalent of the American FBI.
The French alerted British intelligence agencies to the possibility of firearms on one or more of the ships that had left northern France. Migrants brought to Dover last week on August 15
The Kent Coast Guard helicopter stayed two miles from the migrant boats as a safety measure several times during the day.
Lifeboats along the south coast were also ordered to stay clear of the rubber boats they were trying to save.
At 4 pm, off Hastings in East Sussex, a lifeboat bringing a migrant ship ashore was advised by the Coast Guard to drop the towline and “pull away” at the following suspicions concerning the occupants.
Earlier in the day, a tire acting “strangely” off Dover was also placed under emergency surveillance by the Border Force when its occupants – a group of men and a woman – hid their faces while a lifeboat was approaching.
During a maritime radio conversation on public airwaves about the inflatable, a crew member of a Dover lifeboat told the Coast Guard: “It’s very strange, I have to say.
“They are very reluctant to look at us. Everything is headlong in the boat. There is something funny about this one.
The crew member said the tire was spinning slowly in circles after reducing its outboard power. A second radio conversation, still on public airwaves between authorities coordinating rescue efforts, said a boat was suspected of having dropped a package or bag overboard when approached by a ship border forces.
The number of people arrested at sea, except those who reached the beaches and fled, was so high that at 5 p.m. the border forces’ migrant processing center at the port of Dover was exhausted. Migrants are seen above last month
Film stills handed to the Mail show a migrant inflatable off Folkestone, Kent, just after 10 a.m., with 13 men and a woman wearing a white hijab on board crouching around a tarp in the ship.
A sailor who filmed the boat said: “I have seen hundreds of migrant boats in the English Channel. I had never seen that before.
“They were trying to hide something. The mystery tarpaulin was not used to protect them from seawater as was the case at the back of the boat. It is not known what happened to the boat or its occupants.
As many as 800 migrants arrived on dozens of boats on Saturday, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for human trafficking gangs. The previous daily record – also set this month – was 592.
Some boats reached the beaches without being recovered at sea by the lifeboats or the Border Force. In chaotic scenes, migrants with children were seen sitting at a bus stop, eating berries of bushes, climbing cliffs, smiling on walks, walking along the A20 road from Dover to London and walking directing towards Folkestone station along a suburban street.
In Broadstairs in Kent, migrants also slipped past Border Force and lifeboats at sea.
They arrived on a large inflatable at a tourist beach near bathers, some of whom were nudists, and ran across the beach towards the undergrowth where they were allegedly caught by police and immigration officials.
The number of people arrested at sea, except those who reached the beaches and fled, was so high that at 5 p.m. the border forces’ migrant processing center at the port of Dover was exhausted.
Border force ships were left in line at the quayside with migrants on deck in Covid masks as they waited for space.
Migrant boats continued to cross the Channel until 8 p.m., with traffickers using a day’s window of calm, windless weather.
The firearms warning from the French security services followed the surveillance of boats on French beaches before their departure.
The National Crime Agency said last night it had not commented on “intelligence” such as whether guns were found.