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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
'Asylum seekers' raft paddle foiled
Two suspected asylum seekers used children's inflatable rafts in a desperate bid to paddle across the Channel.

The pair, thought to be from Lithuania and Russia, had been on what coastguards' describe as "two children's lilos" for 10 hours as they tried to navigate their way across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

They were eventually picked up about seven miles off Calais by the P&O Stena Line ferry Provence and taken back to France, according to Dover Coastguard.

A coastguard spokesman said it was one of the most desperate bids to get across the English Channel yet.

The crew were forced to slow the ferry down, turn it around and within 15 minutes had launched the rescue boat and got them on board

Gail Isted, P&O Stena Line
"I'd call it desperate more than dangerous," he said. "It's unbelievable."

A spokesman for the French Coastguard said: "The Provence found two persons on inflatable mattresses about seven miles south west of Calais.

"They took them on board and on to Calais where they were met by two French police officers.

"We have had a number of reports from French small boat owners having their boats stolen and they think they are being stolen by these illegal immigrants."

The Dover Coastguard spokesman added that the men were fortunate that conditions in the Channel were good.

Rescue boat

"This just shows the desperation of these people to get to this country.

"They were on nothing more than children's inflatable lilos and had both been on them for 10 hours with their bags."

Gail Isted of P&0 Stena Line said the crew of the 0430BST sailing from Dover spotted the suspected asylum seekers and launched their rescue boat to pick them up at around 0530BST.

"The crew were forced to slow the ferry down, turn it around and within 15 minutes had launched the rescue boat and got them on board.

"It's lucky that our crew reacted so quickly."

The BBC's Jon Sopel
"They travelled some seven miles"
See also:

03 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Asylum policy 'fuels' racial tension
25 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Asylum applications up
23 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Asylum applications at 20-month low
23 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Talks to speed up asylum system
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