Man, 20, and woman, 18, suspected of supplying inflatable boats to people smugglers are arrested in East Sussex

·2-min read

Investigators have arrested two suspects thought to be involved in supplying inflatable boats to people smugglers.

They are suspected members of a gang buying small vessels used to bring illegal immigrants onto UK shores.

National Crime Agency officers arrested a Lithuanian woman aged 18 in Hastings, East Sussex, and a 20-year-old Syrian man in nearby St. Leonards-on-Sea.

The gang is thought to have bought at least six boats in the UK and then moved them to France or Belgium for the cross-Channel smuggling operation.

Three of the boats were recovered after being used by smugglers, one of them in Kent in September on a day in which 400 illegal immigrants arrived in small vessels.

Last month, officers arrested and questioned a 30-year-old man in Hastings before releasing him. They said that investigation continues.

NCA Branch Commander Matt Rivers said: "This operation demonstrates that not only are we going after the people smugglers themselves, but we are also targeting their business model by targeting their suppliers.

"These Channel crossings are incredibly dangerous, as shown by recent and historic mass fatalities, and the criminals who organise them are simply exploiting migrants by taking their money and then putting them in life-threatening situations.

"People who willingly make that possible, whether it be through providing social media advertising, financial services or supplying boats, can expect to be pursued by the NCA and held accountable.

The NCA said it had around 50 current investigations into networks or individuals at the top level of organised immigration crime.

Its operations involve other agencies including Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and French police.

Since the summer, a joint UK-French intelligence unit has been involved in 140 arrests and stopped 1,100 migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.

The NCA's Head of Organised Immigration Crime Operations, Miles Bonfield, said: "Organised immigration crime is a chronic threat and the scale and complexity evolves all the time.

"The NCA is targeting and disrupting crime groups at every step of the route - in source countries, in transit, near the UK border in France and Belgium, and those operating inside the UK itself."