Organised gangsters are bribing owners of luxury yachts to carry illegal immigrants from the continent to the Westcountry, it has been alleged.
Albanians desperate to reach the UK are paying to cross the channel from Brittany to the southern coast of South West England, landing in smaller ports unguarded by border agency staff.
Investigators in the Brittany capital Rennes have begun probing what they believe may be a highly organised network of criminals who are using ports on the north coast of Brittany as a jumping off point. Controls there are less frequent than those at Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk.
It has emerged that 15 Albanian migrants without papers were found huddled in the cabin of a £100,000 yacht, on January 12, by Customs officers from Cherbourg. They were carrying out a routine check on a yacht, based in Brittany, which was heading north across the Channel towards the Westcountry.
Under questioning, the migrants said that they had each paid 1,000 euros to reach the UK. The two skippers, who are both from Brittany, revealed to a judge that they had been propositioned by a Kosovo man, who offered them large sums to smuggle migrants to Britain.
"In 2012 they transited 30 foreigners without papers on two yachts, making five trips to the UK," said a French source. All of the migrants boarded yachts at ports in northern Brittany and were landed in the Westcountry, the source said.
The two Frenchmen have been remanded in custody pending their trial. Using luxury yachts to ferry migrants to the UK from France is a new form of criminal activity believed to be controlled by ruthless gangs from Kosovo and Albania who specialise in people smuggling, drugs and prostitution.
Afghan and Iraqi smugglers based at the northern French Channel ports attempt to open doors of lorry trailers at motorway rest areas allowing migrants to sneak into the UK on ferries.
Investigators believe that Albanian criminal gangs are attempting to take over the lucrative business of people-smuggling that has been going on from Calais, France's busiest cross-Channel port. In December in Calais there were violent clashes between Afghans, Egyptians and Albanians.
Concerns have been expressed that changes to the way the British Border Agency operates, concentrating on airports and other major ports of entry, has left more remote parts of the country, like the far South West, more vulnerable to targeting by illegal immigrants.
Last night no one from the Border Agency was available for comment.