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Two Brits charged under immigration act after boat carrying 18 migrants found off Kent coast

By KentOnline reporter

Two men from Kent have been charged after a boat with 18 Albanians began sinking off the Kent coast.

Mark Stribling, 35 from Farningham and Robert Stilwell, 33, from Dartford, were charged under the Immigration Act 1971.

They were both remanded in custody to appear at Medway Magistrates' Court this morning.

The Coastguard helicopter is involved. stock pic: @DadswellToby
The Coastguard helicopter is involved. stock pic: @DadswellToby

The coastguard was involved in the rescue after the inflatable boat got into difficulties off the coast of Dymchurch, on Saturday night.

A helicopter was scrambled along with lifeboat and local coastguard crews following reports the rigid-hulled inflatable had been spotted near Dymchurch shortly before midnight and was taking on water.

The 18 Albanian migrants were eventually found at 2am and taken ashore to Dover by border control officers.

All the people on board who were rescued remain in the custody of the UK Border Force and have been taken to Dover to be interviewed.

A lifeboatman whose crew was called out to attend the incident has echoed warnings about the dangers of the stretch of water in which the vessel was found listing.

Trevor Bunney, who is deputy second coxswain at Dungeness Lifeboat Station and its full time mechanic, has 30 years' experience of sea rescues.

Trevor Bunney, who is based at Dungeness Lifeboat Station
Trevor Bunney, who is based at Dungeness Lifeboat Station

He said: "The Dungeness and Littlestone lifeboats were called out at 11.45pm on Saturday and the boat was found in choppy waters.

"The Dover Straight is a dangerous stretch of water at the best of times.

"The weather and sea conditions are unpredictable and at this time of year the water is still very cold."

Mr Bunney warned sea conditions in the Dover Straight were much more treacherous than Mediterranean waters, where thousands of migrants have already perished trying to get to Greece or Italy on boats.

His concerns echo those of the President of the French coastguard, Bernard Barron.

Following the rescue operation, Mr Barron, told Sky News he believed the suspected smuggler craft was unsuitable for crossing the Channel.

He said: "It's starting to become a very similar situation to that seen in the Mediterranean and my biggest fear is that the same kind of tragedies we see in Greece or Italy will start to repeat in the Channel."

Mr Barron said "smugglers have now found a new strategy" after it had become "virtually impossible" for migrants to cross into the UK via the Channel Tunnel or on ferries.

The incident has led South East England MEP Janice Atkinson to accuse the government of failing to protect the country's borders and she is calling for Border Force cutters to return from the Mediterranean to protect Britain's coastline.

She said: "This is the tip of the iceberg. In the past few weeks I have travelled to the migrant hotspots of Greece and Calais. Two out of five of our Border Force cutters are in the Aegean sea. How can we guard our own coastline? The Greeks have 240 boats to protect their borders yet they cannot do so."

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