Seventy-two people have been arrested in an anti-people smuggling operation after they were found crammed onto a 30m fishing boat off the coast of East Anglia.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the vessel had been intercepted close to Great Yarmouth on Tuesday evening and escorted into Harwich harbour in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Among those detained once it reached port were three crew members – a Latvian and two Ukrainian nationals – and 69 suspected illegal migrants of Albanian nationality.
The crew members were detained on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration, while the suspected migrants were arrested on suspicion of offences under the Immigration Act.
The boat had sailed from the Ostend area of Belgium, the NCA said, and a search of the vessel is ongoing.
The raid was a joint operation between the NCA, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force – including the Border Force cutters Searcher and Vigilant – with support from Essex Police.
The three crew members will be interviewed by NCA investigators, while the remaining 69 people are being dealt with by immigration officers, the NCA said.
NCA deputy director of investigations Craig Naylor said: “This was clearly a significant incident and a significant attempt to breach the UK’s border controls.”
He added: “Working with our partners we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle people smuggling networks, and prevent them from exploiting migrants for profit.
“Our aim is to target those who cause harm, safeguard those who are most vulnerable while securing the United Kingdom’s borders.”