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UK Ports, Our Eyes & Ears, As Well As Our Gate Keepers – An Article By William Dill

Taken from a recent review of the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) News Pages – Highlighting the threats towards UK Ports from Organised Crime and their associated activities.
  • 31st October 2023

UK Ports – Our Eyes & Ears As Well As Our Gate Keepers … We Cannot Do It Alone.

From a recent review of the National Crime Agency’s News Pages and recent headlines, the following incidents quickly highlight the tip of the iceberg with regards to threats to our UK Ports from Organised Crime Groups (OCG).

  • Drivers accused of transporting migrants for people smuggling kingpin arrested in Romania. NCA 12 Sept 2023.
  • Man charged in pleasure boat people smuggling investigation. NCA 4th Oct 2023.
  • Driver charged over alleged cross-Channel people smuggling. NCA 11th Oct 2023.
  • NCA investigation launched after drugs found off south coast of England. NCA Oct 2023.
  • Drug ship seized off Cork with €157m of cocaine was ‘largest in the history of the State’. Sources state that this shipment was not just bound for the Republic of Ireland but to the UK.

These headlines highlight organised crime exists and that the crime originates both within the UK and from Mainland Europe.  The articles also demonstrate the pressure and focus which Organised Crime Groups (OCG) are putting on our ports, including commercial ports, private ports and small ports including marinas.  Within this sample of incidents, the common denominator is the need for transport with OCG needing access to maritime ports.

UK maritime confirm that there are over 120 commercial ports within the UK.  From the 2022/23 UK Ports Directory there are 230+ ports or all sizes listed on their UK Ports Map.  Policing Ports cannot and should not just be down to Enforcement Agencies.  We all, within the Ports industry, no matter what our job roles, must and do have a responsibility to help protect our customers, colleagues, assets, communities, and our country.

Policing within the UK is based on ‘policing by consent’.  This is defined by the Ministry of Justice as:

“… A concept rooted in the belief that the authority of the police derives from the consent and cooperation of the public they serve, as opposed to the power of the state …”

The definition confirms that the act of policing is driven from the ‘consent and co-operation of the public’.

Consent is based on the public’s need to have the police for their own protection which the police carry out within their objectives of maintaining public order and safety, enforcing the law, preventing, detecting, and investigating criminal activities and assisting citizens by responding to emergency calls in a timely fashion or providing referral to other appropriate agencies.  However, policing also needs to co-operation of public to assist them in this act.

In theory, policing cannot effectively take place without the assistance and input from the general public.  This is where the importance of co-operation of all agencies as well as employers and their employees is vital for the protection at our ports.  The need for eyes and ears and for employees to observe and report is as critical as the need for enforcement authorities to be present and proactive.

This can commence at various levels within the ports.  In support of enforcement agencies, Port Security Teams as well as port personnel, customer facing or port operational should be trained in the relevant awareness training of the tell-tale signs to look our for.  This type of training has already been successful with human trafficking awareness training delivered in empowering staff to observe and also report observations to the right authorities.  For example, in 2019 in a small UK Port, within three months of human trafficking awareness training being carried out, 8 observations were raised by Port Staff, which led to 8 successful arrests, two later being confirmed as disrupting two organised crime organisations involved in human trafficking.

Awareness training is vital but not the only answer.  With most ports being certificated to the international ship and port facility code, which is managed by the Department for Transport, requirements for the training, measuring, and recording of OCG activities within ports would make it mandatory for ports to train staff and record these types of incidents.  If theses activities are being recorded, trends, patterns and the extent of these crimes will become more visible, providing data to the industry as well as to enforcement agencies, which may assist in the battle in combating these criminal transport networks into the UK.

To Summarise

Ports are an essential resource to the UK for trade, jobs, and industry development.  However, they are equally important to OCGs for the illegal transportation of people, drugs, weapons, money, all of which help strengthen organised crime as well as terrorism within the UK.

Policing of ports cannot just be left to the police and other enforcement agencies; we all have a part to play.  From customer facing staff, ports operational staff, crews, port security teams, Port Facility Security Officers, Harbour Masters, as well as customers.    Observe and Report (#OAR) can make all the difference in rescuing victims of human trafficking to preventing illegal shipments from getting through to their destinations. Within this growing chaotic world which we all share, we can help protect communities through raising concerns which we observe.  You can make all the difference. Never underestimate the power of collaboration.

Author: William Dill MSyl

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