The people traffickers’ mega-boat ferries a load of migrants across the sea from France to Britain, roaring at high speed through waves towards the Kent coast.
Each of the 16 young men on board the 36ft-long inflatable is wearing an expensive lifejacket.
The skipper, in a designer waterproof, has his hand firmly on the tiller of the boat’s powerful outboard as he heads for the White Cliffs of Dover.
Their craft is evidence of the latest tactic used by the ruthless people-smugglers — massive inflatable boats, some capable of carrying up to 70 passengers.
The migrants were spotted last Tuesday afternoon in English waters on their 21-mile illegal cross-Channel journey, and a few moments later they were picked up by Britain’s Border Force vessel, Speedwell, and ferried safely into Dover.
They had enjoyed their journey untroubled by the French navy, which is tasked with stopping them making the crossing.
‘It was just before 1pm British time when the Border Force reached them,’ said a south coast sailor who contacted the Mail about the pick up.
Smugglers are upping their game to ferry migrants across the Channel in record numbers
An investigation has revealed that RNLI boats now go into French waters to pick up migrants
‘Anyone who knows about the Channel could see the skipper, probably a migrant himself, was an accomplished seaman plotting a safe course from France.
‘It was a people smugglers’ vessel. Yet its occupants were collected by Speedwell. The crew even towed the traffickers’ mega-boat to shore too.’
I have been investigating the cross-Channel migrant business for months, and judging by activities this week it is clear that the traffickers are upping their game and that the British authorities are floundering in response to the numbers of new arrivals.
I can reveal that these lengthy super-inflatables are the new mode of transport for migrants prepared to stump up premium sums for rapid trips across the Channel.
In addition, I discovered that Border Force vessels are using covert tactics to keep their activities hidden, and that one of their techniques is to communicate with the French navy using ‘closed’ radio channels as opposed to the open channel most boats use.
And what is more, it is clear that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution — the registered charity so many of us help fund through donations, garden fetes and collection boxes — is regularly sending its vessels into French waters to bring in migrants.
A Border Force boat, Speedwell, pictured picking up immigrants in the Channel in June
It is, say critics, doing so even if they are not in imminent danger and in areas which are the responsibility of the French — not British — sea rescue services.
Migrant sea arrivals to the south coast have topped 5,000 in 2021 so far. It is predicted a total of 20,000 could come this year.
This week at least 300 crossed the Channel, many of them in the traffickers’ new vessel of choice — the super-inflatable.
One mega-boat brought into Dover this week by Border Force was carrying 60 migrants.
Another had so many people on board that the traffickers could not supply enough lifejackets for them before they were launched off a French beach.
They were instead given car tyres to cling to in the sea if their boat capsized.
The Mail has learned that, in a sophisticated crime operation, mega-inflatables are being bought in bulk by traffickers in countries such as Austria — or from outside the EU bloc.
They are then dismantled, before being secretly transported by lorry to the French coast and reassembled at secret locations.
An eleven-metre dinghy used by people traffickers to send migrants across the channel
For the traffickers, the mega-boats are a business investment — the more migrants that they can squeeze on to a boat, the more money they make.
And the quicker these international criminals can transport their cargo of humans to Britain, the richer they become.
The traffickers have increased the efficiency of their operations. The length of time a migrant has to wait between reaching the north French coast and getting a place on a boat to the UK is now just a few weeks, compared with months last year.
The people smuggling operations are slick, professional — and bewildering our Government.
Home Secretary Priti Patel warned this week that, because of the failure to stop migrants, she plans to put a new supremo in charge of stopping Channel crossings.
Two directors-general of Border Force and Immigration Enforcement are expected to quit their positions.
Yet for now the traffickers hold all the trump cards. They even instruct migrants leaving boats from France to call UK emergency services while at sea — and then wait to be collected by the British.
This week, the Mail learned from three different sources that migrants on one mega-boat heading across the Channel phoned the West Midlands’ police, using a number given to them by traffickers, to say they were sinking.
Pictured: Up to sixty more migrants arrived into the Port of Dover on the first day of the month
The Force duly alerted the British coastguard which dispatched Border Force vessels to sea to collect them.
Astonishing pictures have emerged of empty mega-boats piling up in harbours at Dover after being towed in by Border Force or slipping in from France to make independent beach landings along the Kent coast.
The Mail used maritime tracking websites to monitor the scores of migrant journeys this week.
Through these sites, we found the exact spot in English waters off Kent where Speedwell picked up the mega-boat and its occupants on Tuesday.
An expose by the Mail last month showed that Border Force’s cutter Valiant colluded with the French patrol ship Athos to scoop up migrants from the French side of the Channel to bring them to the UK.
The operation by Valiant in French waters was organised through a maritime radio conversation between the two vessels — a conversation heard by the Mail.
Our report sparked an investigation by the Home Secretary, the result of which has not been announced publicly.
But a Home Office source told us emphatically at the time: ‘The job of Border Force is to secure UK Borders, not to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.’
Men, women and children still risk the dangers involved in crossing the 21-mile Dover Strait in rubber dinghies, despite Priti Patel’s vows to make the route ‘unviable’. Pictured: today
We have discovered that Border Force has since drawn a veil over its migrant rescue operations after being reprimanded over the Valiant affair by the Home Office.
Border Force vessels are using phones to liaise with the French Navy instead of maritime radios and turning off their Automatic Identification System, known as AIS, which is used to pinpoint vessels’ positions and stop collisions.
Last year we revealed instances where the French navy vessels have also switched off their tracking systems as they come into English waters, often within sight of Dover, to pass migrants they have escorted from France over to Border Force vessels.
This despite the British Government paying £28 million to France to bolster their beach and sea controls and stop boat armadas from setting out.
This week we monitored public maritime radio messages, in English and French, transmitted between Border Force crews, the French navy and the land station of the French coastguard.
They clearly show that migrants are still being passed like parcels by the French navy to Border Force. But the modus operandi has changed.
In one message, the French coastguard asks a French navy ship why a migrant boat is to be collected by Border Force in the Channel’s busy central shipping lane instead of the English side of the waters.
The coastguard says, referring to Border Force: ‘I gather we (the French navy) shouldn’t come too close to their (English) waters anymore, apparently.’
The French naval ship replies: ‘Yes, that’s precisely why.’
In another radio exchange, the French coastguard asks a French navy vessel why the ‘English’ are transmitting messages to the French on channel 16, which is ‘secure’, instead of the normally used open channel, number six.
The French coastguard, co-ordinating a migrant handover, says: ‘Can you contact the Valiant (Border Force vessel) on channel 16 or not?’
The French naval ship responds: ‘Yes will do. We had switched to six, but now we are back on channel 16. That is how they (the English) want to operate.’
In an even more telling maritime radio exchange, at 7.43am British time on Monday, British Border Force vessel Valiant received a message from French navy ship Fourmentin as they arranged a handover of a migrant boat, heading for the UK from France, in the over-burdened shipping lane.
A total of 8,417 made journey in the whole of 2020, quadruple the number for 2019
From the Fourmentin, an officer asks if it is ‘prudent’ to do the migrant transfer in such a dangerous zone of the Channel.
The Valiant crewman responds: ‘Sir, I think we are probably recorded on this. I would rather communicate by telephone with you. I will give you a call.’
In other words, Valiant wanted to cover up its actions.
But the Mail’s investigations this week confirmed the other twist to this disturbing tale — that Britain’s lifeboats are also now racing into French waters to bring migrants to Britain.
On Monday afternoon, the RNLI crew from Dungeness, Kent, crossed the sea border into France to search for a boat in distress with 20 migrants on board.
The lifeboat from Dungeness, where there has been an RNLI station for 160 years, acted on the orders of the UK Coastguard.
We tracked the lifeboat’s journeys this week after receiving complaints from an RNLI whistle-blower.
Our informant said that the same lifeboat has picked up migrants within two miles of the French coast and 19 miles from Britain.
The whistle-blower added: ‘It’s a regular thing. The RNLI volunteers who man these boats and those who raise money for the charity are getting angry. They want ordinary people in peril in English seas to be rescued.
‘I don’t want to get into trouble by telling you or I will be chucked out of the RNLI’.
Another seamen who contacted us from the Dungeness area, said: ‘The Kent lifeboats have been going miles inside French waters to collect migrants.
‘They co-ordinate with Border Force vessels, which shouldn’t be in French waters finding migrants either. Where are the French lifeboats? They should take migrants on their side back to France?’
The RNLI has confirmed the Dungeness lifeboat entered French waters on Monday, before eventually finding the vessel on the English side of the Channel.
A spokesman said yesterday: ‘The lifeboat crew recovered the vessel before returning to Dungeness and handing the “casualties” to the relevant authorities.’
The Mail has photos of the ‘casualties’ — who proved to be migrants — at Dungeness after being brought into shore at just before 6pm.
All young men of multiple nationalities, they were wrapped in red blankets over their clothes and were being processed by teams of immigration officers.
The RNLI explained that it was not uncommon or ‘considered out of the ordinary’ for lifeboats to go into a foreign jurisdiction’s waters.
It said the charity’s purpose was to rescue anyone in peril at sea and the number of times Kent lifeboats had gone to French waters to bring back migrants, or any other sea-goer, was ‘not recorded’.
When asked to comment on the Border Force vessel Speedwell’s pick up of the traffickers’ megaboat, the Home Office declined to do so.
Meanwhile people from all over the world, many of them economic migrants, sail in day after day.
There is only one winner in this historic immigration crisis: the traffickers who know thousands upon thousands more eager customers wait in France for a boat ride to the UK, and are hoping the Border Force — the authority charged with protecting our borders — and the RNLI will help them.