Ferry fines threat

FERRY companies bringing illegal immigrants into Felixstowe and Ipswich ports could be fined £2,000 for every stowaway – unless they use detection equipment.

By Richard Cornwell

FERRY companies bringing illegal immigrants into Felixstowe and Ipswich ports could be fined £2,000 for every stowaway – unless they use detection equipment.

The government is today seeking views on the plan, which it hopes will encourage cargo operators to use new equipment designed to prevent immigrants sneaking into the country.

The biggest concerns are roll-on roll-off routes as stowaways have found ways of hiding inside the soft-sided trailers of lorries.

There have been several incidents where immigrants have jumped out of the lorries in Britain and made off to start new lives or claim asylum.

Last month The Evening Star revealed how asylum-seekers are slipping into Ipswich where there are no full-time immigration officers.

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It is not known how many have arrived at Ipswich, but more than 2,000 have arrived at Felixstowe in the past seven years.

A Home Office spokesman said carriers' liability legislation means operators must have effective controls in place to avoid bringing stowaways to the UK.

Under the new Home Office proposals, ferry companies will have to make full use of detection technology to show they have made adequate checks or be charged £2,000 for each immigrant they bring in.

Some £9 million is being spent by the government on detection technology such as heartbeat detectors, thermal imaging and gamma scanners at key ports in France and Belgium.

He said ports such as Felixstowe and Ipswich would not be responsible for the immigrants coming ashore – that would be down to the carriers.

"The liability is with the carriers and we want to do everything possible to encourage them to use the detection equipment," he said.

Both Felixstowe and Ipswich have connections with ports in France and Belgium, particularly Zeebrugge and Ostend.

Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, said equipment already in place had prevented 4,000 would-be illegal immigrants reaching the UK in the first six months of this year.

"We aim to expand the use of this technology to secure the whole of the north European coastline – progressively moving the UK's borders abroad to prevent people reaching the UK clandestinely in the backs of lorries," she said.

"The government is taking the lead in tackling illegal immigration – negotiating the closure of Sangatte, moving UK immigration controls to France and putting in place the latest technology.

"But businesses that profit from operating cross-channel routes also have a responsibility for making sure that their services are not used as illegal routes to the UK. This means co-operating with the government to make full use of the technology we are providing."

Many companies were working with government to tackle illegal immigration and those who won't play their part will face fines if they carry illegal immigrants to the UK.

n What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

WEBLINK: www.homeoffice.gov.uk