Fishing boats in French port falling victim to smuggling gangs

French fishermen in a busy fishing port in France have been complaining their boats are being stolen and vandalized by smuggling gangs and demanding police crackdown as around 280 migrants have reached the coast of Britain in small boats since early November. 

The port, Boulogne-sur-Mer, is located barely 30 kilometers from the English coast. As a result, fishing boats here are increasingly falling victim to smuggling gangs. 

Migrants broke the motor of a boat, the St Catherine, when they tried to steal it on Christmas Eve, a replacement will cost about 80,000 dollars. 

“They got on board and managed to start the motor and leave, but they didn’t know that on a fishing boat there are valves you have to open once you’re at sea to cool the motor,” said Stephane Pinto, fisherman and head of the CFTC union in Boulogne. 

Those migrants were rescued by the French coastguard. 

“Honestly I think that since we don’t know exactly how many migrants are in Calais, it’s hard to believe that some of them haven’t been lost at sea already, since they’re trying to cross in tiny dinghies as well as in this kind of boat, I believe many of them have gone missing in the sea,” said Pinto. 

Dozens of boats here have been vandalized in recent months by migrants attempting to steal them, but only one boat stolen from here has actually got as far as the English coast. 

The channel here is the busiest shipping strait in the world — meaning that for people from landlocked countries like Iran who may lack sailing experience, attempting to cross it is an enormous risk. 

Half a dozen families depend on each of these boats and vandalism can take them out of the water for weeks, and they are already financially stretched.

Some migrants said they thought the smugglers were mostly Iraqi Kurds, but were getting help from French boat owners — something police insist they’ve seen no evidence of. 

“We’ve run a public information campaign to tell boat owners not to sell boats or dinghies to people who aren’t from the region or whose surnames might be suspicious. They want to use the boats but they are not sailors,” said Jean-Francois Rapin, senator for Boulogne-sur-Mer. 

Therein lies the problem — adding surveillance measures and security cameras at certain ports, especially Calais, has displaced people trying to reach Britain along the coast and pushed them into trying more dangerous methods — but it doesn’t change some migrants’ determination to reach Britain. 

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