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Warning issued to maritime industry over organised crime links to small boats

Published on: 29 April 2021

Seized boats

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has issued an alert to the UK maritime industry, warning them that organised crime groups may target them to obtain small boats for people smugglers.
The alert says that the number of migrants attempting to enter the UK using small boats has increased significantly over the last year. UK law enforcement has detected more than eight thousand migrant arrivals throughout 2020.
This has led to a rise in demand for vessels to aid migrant Channel crossings, with demand likely to continue as weather conditions improve through spring and summer.
Organised crime groups are known to target legitimate sellers of vessels and equipment such as outboard motors and life jackets, both in-person and online. 
The NCA is continuing its work and is now asking the industry to report concerns or suspicious activity relating to the purchase of boat equipment. 

The alert, produced by the NCA following engagement with British Marine, outlines more about the risks and what marine businesses should do if they suspect that equipment or vessels are being bought for illicit purposes.  

  • The alert outlines a number of examples of potentially suspicious activity, including:
  • Cash which is being used in large sums to make payment;
  • Unusual combination of boats and equipment in one transaction;
  • Enquiries about bulk purchases of equipment i.e. life jackets;
  • Repeat purchasing of boats and/or equipment from the same retailer;
  • Lack of concern about the condition of the boat or equipment being purchased, or an indication that it may not be for the buyers’ use.

Customers wanting to complete their transaction and collection as quickly as possible;
Online buyers travelling to collect the boat and/or avoiding providing a fixed delivery address.
British Marine would strongly advise its members to familiarise themselves with the content of the alert which can be read here and take all the necessary precautions to securely store their vessels and equipment. 

We would also encourage our members to report suspicious activity to Crimestoppers, either by phone on 0800 555 111 or online. Those contacting Crimestoppers with information should quote the alert reference ‘0647-OIC’.
Anyone who lives or works around our coastline, marinas, ports or waterways and witnesses something they believe to be suspicious can always call the police on 101, quoting Project KRAKEN, or visit

National crime Agency