French police say they've arrested five people in the Breton port of Saint-Quay-Portrieux after finding migrants stowed away on a yacht bound for the UK.
French police announced on 17 May that they had busted a smuggling network that was using yachts to transport migrants to the UK.
Seven Ukrainian nationals were found on board a yacht in the north west port of Saint-Quay-Portrieux in Brittany on 13 May.
Two skippers and three suspected smugglers were arrested. The Ukrainians, who had arrived in the country using tourists visas, were set free and ordered to leave France.
The French press are reporting that the gang chartered yachts, which they crewed themselves, out of ‘various’ ports in Normandy and Brittany.
They are believed to have made more than 20 trips over the last two years, ferrying migrants across the Channel to the UK. It is unclear where the migrants were brought ashore in the UK.
The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is involved in the investigation.
In a statement to YBW, the NCA said: “We are aware of the arrests made in France and the NCA has supported the French authorities in their operation. Investigations in the UK, led by the NCA, are ongoing.”
The gang has been monitored by the authorities since 2014, after British customs officials caught six Ukrainians trying to come ashore from a yacht off the eastern coast of England.
The head of France’s anti-smuggling office, known as OCRIEST, Julien Gentile said this was not the usual means of transport for migrants.
“This migration network used a relatively rare and costly method, because the journey cost around 6,000 to 7,000 euros,” he said.
In 2015, a gang of Breton fishermen based in Plérin were jailed for five years after being found guilty of smuggling 130 Albanian migrants into the UK. The trial was held in Rennes.
The mastermind behind the ring, Albanian national Edmond Rapi sentenced to seven years in prison in absentia, and an international arrest warrant was issued. He was also ordered to pay a £110,000 fine.
The fishermen carried out trips between 2002 and 2003, ferrying migrants between ports in Brittany and Normandy and coves and beaches along the coastline between Weymouth, Plymouth and South East Cornwall.
They were arrested in June 2014 following an extensive operation by the French and UK authorities as well as Europol and Eurojust.
A Europol spokesman said an estimated 200 migrants were linked to the smuggling ring over a two year period.
The network recruited potential migrants in Albania who, after their arrival in France, were housed in hotels near the Brittany coast.
“French skippers were recruited to transport the migrants in rented sailing yachts across the Channel to the United Kingdom. The main suspects earned several thousand euros per transported migrant. Upon arrival in the UK, some of the migrants claimed asylum to legalise their stay,” said a Europol spokesman.
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