Video: Customs battle to keep shores safe

THEY are the covert line of defence which protect our shores from international gangs smuggling drugs and trafficking people into Britain.

THEY are the covert line of defence which protect our shores from international gangs smuggling drugs and trafficking people into Britain.

And today the UK Border Agencies operations in Suffolk and Essex were praised by immigration minister Phil Woolas who was in Felixstowe and Harwich to see first hand the work undertaken at two of the country's biggest ports.

The visit follows Mr Woolas' ministerial appointment two months ago and also the creation of the new Border Agency in April.

Mr Woolas travelled from Harwich to Felixstowe on board a Cutter patrol boat.

Mr Woolas said: “Organised criminals stand to make huge amounts of money from smuggling people and illegal goods into Britain. That's why we created a strong new force at the border to control immigration and stop weapons and drugs coming across our border.

“The UK Border Agency's fleet of Cutters helps to stay one step ahead of law breakers and to protect the country.

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“The fingerprint visas we've rolled out across the globe are stopping foreign nationals lying about their identities to get to the UK. Using world leading technology is helping us stop criminals before they can even cross our border.”

The Cutter patrol boats, worth several million pounds have a top speed of some 26 knots and are equipped with water jets to allow the vessels to move almost silently at low speeds to stalk slow moving boats.

They also boast a rigid hull inflatable boat which can be launched from the stern to apprehend criminals.

Since the Border Agency was launched in April it has stopped more than 4,400 dangerous weapons, including firearms and stun guns, from entering the country. It has also prevented 16,000 attempts to cross the channel illegally, seized £190 million worth of drugs and seized in excess of 560 million cigarettes.

During his visit Mr Woolas was later shown weapons and narcotics seized recently at Felixstowe including last week's discovery of eight million counterfeit cigarettes.

Mr Woolas said: “The impact of the Border Agency has already been successful in stopping weapons, drugs and immigrants coming into the country.

“I think the men and women who patrol our borders are very brave. This can be a dangerous job and there is a huge amount of effort which goes on behind the scenes.”