The RNLI has said it will continue to rescue people at sea, regardless of how they came to be in the water

The RNLI has defended its position on rescuing migrants at sea.

It comes after a national newspaper highlighted that the charity had sent vessels into French waters to rescue migrants who had got into difficulties while crossing the Channel.

The charity said it existed to save lives at sea, regardless of how a casualty came to be in the water.

‘Our mission is to save every one. Our lifesavers are compelled to help those in need without judgement of how they came to be in the water. They have done so since the RNLI was founded in 1824 and this will always be our ethos,’ said the RNLI.

‘We want to be absolutely clear that we are incredibly proud of the humanitarian work our volunteer lifeboat crews do to rescue vulnerable people in distress.

‘HM Coastguard and the Irish Coast Guard can request any of our lifeboats to launch to an incident. Our lifeboats operate under international maritime law, which states we are permitted and indeed obligated to enter the waters of other territories for search and rescue purposes,’ highlighted the RNLI.

‘Where we believe there is a risk to life at sea, we will always launch. We are not border control and, once a rescue is complete, we hand over responsibility for casualties to UK Border Force and/or the police,’ concluded the statement.

The charity said it had been ‘overwhelmed by the supportive messages’ it had received following the publication of the article in the Daily Mail, and urged supporters to donate to help meet the RNLI’s running costs of £180m a year.

The UK Government has recently published its controversial Nationality and Borders Bill 2021, which has had its first reading in the House of Commons.

Clause 38 of the Bill seeks to amend the 1971 Immigration Act, increasing the maximum sentence for assisting unlawful immigration to the UK from 14 years to life imprisonment. It also seeks to remove the words “for gain”, which previously limited prosecutions to paid people smugglers.

Some immigration barristers have argued that this could potentially make the rescuing of migrants at sea by organisations like the RNLI a criminal offence, as lifeboat crews could be seen as ‘facilitating’ migrant arrivals in the UK.

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The Home Office has said that under the new bill, organisations and individuals will be able to continue to rescue those in distress at sea, and that its aim was to target people smugglers.

In April, the National Crime Agency issued an alert, warning that organised crime groups may target the marine industry to obtain small boats for people smuggling.

Organised crime groups are known to target legitimate sellers of vessels and equipment such as outboard motors and life jackets, both in person and online.

There are also incidents recorded of boats and equipment being stolen.

The National Crime Agency has conducted a number of operations targeting those who supply boats to people smugglers, but it is asking those in the industry to report concerns or suspicious activity relating to the purchase of boat equipment anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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