Concerns have been raised that the coastline across Sussex is vulnerable to people smugglers, drug traffickers and terrorists.
A former police officer said it was only ‘a matter of time’ before Islamic State or other terrorist groups smuggle operatives into the UK via unprotected harbours and beaches.
Martyn Underhill, police and crime commissioner for Dorset, said most coastal forces have cut or abolished marine units in recent years.
Sussex Police revealed it has no police vessels patrolling the English Channel.
Mr Underhill said: “The Border Force have the cutters, so it’s their responsibility to be the front line against people trying to enter the country illegally. The police are there to supplement that. You are as strong as the weakest link. The weakest link is the small sea ports on the south coast. A terrorist is going to come through those sea ports and then commit a terrorist offence in a major city or a major sporting event.”
As reported in the national press at the weekend, the UK’s Border Force has asked the Royal Navy to help defend the English Channel from people smugglers.
In recent weeks there have been several cases in Sussex where illegal immigrants have been arrested after attempting to enter the UK through ports.
Last month, a yacht with 17 Albanians was spotted sailing into Chichester Marina. Police arrested the British man who sailed the yacht, who is wanted on suspicion of murder in Spain.
On April 20, UK Border Force officials said eight illegal immigrants were arrested in Newhaven after they disembarked.
Last month, a report published by Europol, the European police agency, said 90 per cent of migrants coming to the European Union (EU) have been helped by a criminal network.
Europol has also identified 13 ‘migrant smuggling hotspots’ in the UK, two of which are Chichester and Newhaven.
Katy Bourne, Sussex police and crime commissioner, said: “Recently, 17 illegal migrants were arrested attempting to enter the country through Chichester Marina, raising concerns that our Sussex coastline is vulnerable, particularly to small boats.
“While I welcome the Government’s announcement to strengthen maritime powers under the new Immigration Act and to provide more boats and operational hubs, it is important to understand that people arriving outside the law also risk being exploited further by criminal gangs and the output from any criminality may well impact upon local residents.
“Balancing our own security with compassion for those desperate enough to risk their lives for a brighter future will always be a challenge. So, to make sure we’re doing everything we can, I recently met with a Director from the National Crime Agency and with south east regional chief constables to seek assurances that our police are sharing intelligence and collaborating effectively with national and international agencies.
“I requested a full update for our next meeting and will be closely monitoring this issue in the weeks ahead.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Border Force uses a combination of cutters, radar, on shore assets and aerial surveillance to detect and stop small craft. We also work closely with domestic and international partners on an intelligence-led approach to identify unlawful maritime activity including facilitation and clandestine entry.
“November’s Strategic Defence and Spending Review outlined our intention to enhance joint working between law enforcement agencies and the Royal Navy to increase patrolling in our territorial waters. On May 26, further maritime security measures were also announced, including the introduction of additional patrol vessels, maritime powers and operational hubs. We will not comment on speculation about any specific measures related to border security.”
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