Police in Calais are using drones to locate migrants preparing to cross the Channel by boat, so that they can be arrested before they reach the water.
In an escalation of security measures, the remotely controlled aerial vehicles have been seen flying low above the main Calais Migrant camp and sweeping across nearby beaches.
Drones can cover much more ground in much less time than other vehicles, and are able to relay a live video camera feed.
Ingrid Parrot, from the French Naval headquarters for the Channel and North Sea, said: “What we are trying to do with the police is exchange information and stop the migrants reaching the sea.
“Our aim is to stop people on the beach reaching the water.
“In the last three weeks, we have increased the number of ships and helicopters in the area to dissuade the migrants from attempting to go out to sea.
“The police, I understand have also increased their numbers on the ground to stop people getting into boats.”
Ms Parrot would not be drawn into giving specific figures because she did not want the smugglers to be alerted to the scale of the operation.
“There are many people involved,” she added.
The move has come after a recent spike in attempted crossings of the English Channel by predominantly Iranian migrants.
On Tuesday, two men were picked up in St Margret’s bay, Kent at 3pm, having crossed the world’s busiest shipping lane in nothing more than a small dinghy in broad daylight.
They presented themselves as Iranian, and were taken into custody by border force agents.
On Wednesday, four men who said they were Iranian were picked up by the side of the road in Lincolnshire, having seemingly overshot the Kent coastline.
Lincolnshire Police said: “The four men aged 30, 29, and two aged 31, were arrested by officers in the Roman Bank area of Mablethorpe at around 7.30pm on December 4. “It was reported these men had arrived by boat.”
In France, there was activity too.
Eight men in a pleasure craft were caught by police while trying to set sail across the channel from a beach just north of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
A police spokesperson said that four of the migrants were Iranian and four were Iraqi. None were injured or taken to hospital, and all were taken into custody.
In the strangest incident of the evening, a man radioed for help while struggling in a seven-metre pleasure cruiser in shallow waters near Equihen-Plage, just south of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
He abandoned ship when it became clear that no boat was able to tug him away.
It emerged that the craft had been bought the day before by a man who claimed to be British, and suspicions have been raised that he may have been trying to smuggle migrants across the channel.
One coastguard insider said: “You don’t buy a boat like that at this time of year and take it out on the water at night. I think it’s quite clear what he was trying to do, and that was go round the corner and try and pick up a group of migrants.”
The Telegraph visited the beach on Wednesday evening and saw the boat beached on the sand at low tide, with its propeller jammed into the sand and a life jacket left in the cabin.
The man who abandoned ship had apparently not been back.
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