Claims that French fishermen are somehow complicit in smuggling migrants across the channel are being fiercely contested in the port of Boulogne.
The President of the local fishing association Stephane Pinto says such an allegation makes him ‘very cross’. He says fishermen in France are ‘victims’ of migrant attempts to steal their trawlers.
He says there have been some fifteen break-ins since November and each one causes hundreds, sometimes thousands of Euros of damage.
The most recent happened on New Year’s Eve, when migrants tried to steal the ‘Caprice des Temps’ trawler.
Often those trying to hot-wire the boat are unaware of the correct starting procedures and fail to open the sea-cocks, meaning there is no cooling water for the engine.
It can ruin a diesel motor in minutes, resulting in the fishing crew losing their livelihoods for days while they wait for costly repairs.
What’s worse is that the fishermen claim their insurance won’t cover them for damage caused by migrant break-ins.
Only one fishing trawler has actually made it across the channel with migrants abroad, but the authorities here have intercepted others packed with migrants before they have left French territorial waters.
The difficulty of getting out of the Port unnoticed means most migrants chose a more covert and dangerous route involving tiny inflatable dinghies supplied by smugglers.
Migrants have told us the boats are inflated in secrecy at the side of the road and then lowered over the cliffs west of Calais on ropes.
Migrants are then charged thousands of Euros for a place aboard, often without a promised helmsman to guide the craft safely across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. We’ve been told French nationals are involved in procuring the inflatables, since most reputable chandleries demand the purchasers identity card.
They then sell the boats on to smugglers for a large profit, who in turn can make thousands of Euros for each crossing. 539 migrants attempted to make the crossing last year in small boats, most in the last three months of 2018. 42 per cent were intercepted by the French authorities before they reached British waters, during some 70 maritime operations, according to the French maritime authority.
Part of the problem now is that the Channel Tunnel and Ports are so much more secure than a few years ago, the migrants feel this is the only viable option.
As more make it across, so word spreads of their success encouraging others to put their lives in the hands of smugglers or take their chances in the fishing port of Boulogne.