NCA warns maritime industry over organised crime links to small boats

The National Crime Agency 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 warns that since global Covid-19 lockdown measures were imposed in March 2020 the number of migrants attempting to enter the UK using small boats has increased significantly. UK law enforcement detected in excess of 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. There are also incidents recorded of boats and equipment being stolen.


The NCA have conducted a number of operations targeting those who supply boats to people smugglers, but the Agency is asking those in the industry to report concerns or suspicious activity relating to the purchase of boat equipment.


The NCA alert outlines a number of examples of potentially suspicious activity, including:

  • Cash being used in large sums to make payment

  • Unusual combination of boats and equipment in one transaction

  • Enquiries about bulk purchase 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.