Illegal immigrants were forced to swim more than two hours to safety after being picked up in the English Channel by the coastguard. But it was only after thousands of pounds worth of high-powered fishing equipment left the rescue vessel that the sea crew finally managed to help the migrants who ran into difficulty at about 5.30am on Saturday.
The remote Channel Islands were still in darkness when the migrants jumped in a rubber dinghy. Volunteers said migrants then dived overboard into the freezing cold water before running into trouble.
At the time, the RRS Hazlehead, with more than 30 volunteers, was moored in Grays and reached the stricken dinghy at about 7.15am.
An RNLI spokesman said: “The men had to swim at least two hours to be picked up by the rescuers. They were given a cup of tea and invited to remain onboard for the rest of the night.”
The calm waters were two-and-a-half miles off Sheppey Head, Kent. Last night a Home Office spokesman said: “We’ve taken advice from the Home Office about entering the UK illegally, but it’s a criminal offence to attempt it.”
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