LONDON (AP) — Two British men have been charged with immigration offenses after the weekend rescue of 18 Albanians whose small inflatable boat was taking on water in the English Channel, UK officials said Monday.
The Home Office said that Mark Stribling, 35, and Robert Stilwell, 33, appeared at Medway Magistrate's Court and will be kept in custody until the next court hearing on June 27.
The Albanians are being questioned by UK Border Forces in Dover.
There have been few cases of migrants trying to cross the English Channel in small boats but several recent incidents are raising safety and security concerns. Some migrants stymied by heightened security at the Channel Tunnel linking England and France are turning to dangerous, illegal boat trips.
The charges filed Monday suggest people traffickers are organizing illicit trips.
John Vine, formerly chief inspector of borders and immigration, said Monday that migrants could end up drowning in the English Channel as they have in the Mediterranean. He said the British government does not have a contingency plan to deal with a possible rise in people trafficking.
"In the context of small ports, we just don't know the extent of this," he told BBC Radio. "Clearly if this is now the start of something new, then really that needs to be reassessed and resources need to be put in."
Britain has only three cutters actively patrolling its coastline, which has hundreds of small ports with accessible harbors.
Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the Immigration Services Union, said much of the coast is unprotected and officials do not know how many people fleeing poverty and warfare have entered.
She said it is "inevitable" that numbers will go up because so many migrants are in transit.
Officials said two Britons and 18 Albanians were on the boat when it got into trouble off the coast of Kent. It's not clear if the two Britons on board are the men charged. The early Sunday rescue involved a search-and-rescue helicopter and lifeboats from several English ports.