VIA Daily Mail
Migrants are paying wealthy Ukrainian gangs more than £5,500 to smuggle them from Turkey to Italy on luxury yachts.
According to the border agency and Italian authorities, more than 2,000 have made the trip since the beginning of 2016. The multi-million pound operation sees the gangs - believed to be former members of the Ukrainian army - charge thousands for the journey which takes three or four days.
According to Louise Callaghan of The Sunday Times, migrants are taken to Izmir on Turkey's Aegean coast before sailing via Malta or Sicily, sometimes picking up more passengers in Greece.
And according to The Times, in the last month eight Ukrainian people smugglers were arrested in Sicily after their yacht was intercepted, while another six were arrested in Malta and Crete - both groups ferrying some 30 migrants from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. However there were a reported nine successful trips last year which evaded the Sicilian authorities.
Most migrants attempt the perilous journey on flimsy inflatable boats provided by smugglers that are barely equipped to make it to international waters. Larger wooden boats carrying several hundred migrants are rarer, but are still regularly seen in the treacherous stretch of water between the two continents.
Some migrants are turned back by the Libyan coastguard, which generally delivers them to detention centres notorious for poor conditions and ill-treatment. Seven suspected illegal immigrants were arrested last month off the coast of Suffolk after their yacht got stuck in a mudbank after it was blown off course.
The group, thought to be from the Ukraine, were on board a 28 foot sailing boat that was trying to get into the mouth of the River Ore in Suffolk from the North Sea when it got into difficulties in low water and strong winds.
The main lifeboat from Aldeburgh, ten miles north, was by chance on exercise in the area but was unable to get into the river because of the shallow channels. Instead the Aldebugh RNLI's inshore lifeboat was called in to help save the white-hulled yacht which was being blown on mudbanks before the alarm was raised. UK border force officials were called in and after the lifeboat towed the yacht up river to the jetty in Orford, the seven men were arrested and taken into custody.
Almost exactly three years ago, six Ukrainians were caught getting off a small boat at Orford Quay and three Ukranian nationals later received jail sentences of up to four years.
As border security along the Channel coast has been stepped up in recent years, smugglers have been forced to make much longer crossings from Europe and East Anglia has become a favourite target to land illegals. It is a 120-mile crossing from the Dutch coast and in a small boat the journey takes 24 hours. But once here, smugglers have 250 miles of largely un-policed coastline to choose from including creeks and estuaries and miles of isolated beaches. Rescuers saved 484 migrants from boats in the Mediterranean on Saturday and found the bodies of seven men who had died in the attempt to get to Europe, Italy's coastguard said.
More than 45,000 people have reached Italy by boat from North Africa this year, a more than 40 percent increase on the same period of 2016, and 1,222 people are known to have died on the route, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
The migrants were rescued from four separate rubber boats by the Italian coast guard and navy, an aid group and two private vessels, the coast guard said in a statement.
Meanwhile, an Italian prosecutor said on Wednesday he is investigating some members of humanitarian organisations rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on suspicion they may have cooperated with people smugglers.
Ambrogio Cartosio, chief prosecutor of the western Sicilian city of Trapani, told a parliamentary committee in Rome that the organisations themselves were not a target of the inquiry. Suspicions arose because some rescue crew seemed to know in advance where to find the flimsy boats crowded with migrants after smugglers sent them off from north African ports, he said. Some Italian politicians have claimed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) run a taxi service bringing migrants to Italy.
'We understand that NGOs made some rescues at sea without informing the Coast Guard,' Cartosio said.