group of European politicians who sailed across the English Channel carrying
a message of goodwill from the German town of Zweibrucken were arrested
on arrival in Britain. The deputation of two Germans and one Frenchman
set out on a homemade raft with no lifesaving equipment to cross the world's
second busiest shipping lane, without gaining prior permission from coastguards.
The three sailors were arrested on suspicion of endangering life as soon as they reached the shore of Folkestone after travelling from Boulogne, and spent 10 hours in police cells. Lynn Dockar, manager of the Boulogne and Shepway Co-operation Association, was part of a welcoming committee at Folkestone who watched in horror as the trio were taken away by police.
"In the space of 20 seconds I went from elation at their joyous arrival to deep concern when two very angry Coastguards appeared," she said. Ms Dockar added that their visitors were "deeply sorry they had caused so much fuss". The sailors claimed that they had tried to make contact with the coastguard to obtain permission before their trip, but after failing to get through on the telephone they decided to head off anyway.
Mark Clark, a Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman, said their stunt was akin to "crossing the M25 on a scooter with a blindfold on". "It was just stupid. They posed a danger to themselves and to other vessels. Big ships are not to be messed with. Ships go up and down there at a considerable rate," he said.
Their raft was found to have had no radio connection set up with UK coastguards and contained outdated flares, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said. Mr Clark added that it was essential that anyone who wished to cross the Channel - which is used by up to 500 ships a day - sought permission from authorities on both sides of the water. "They’ve also got to assure us they have sufficient safety equipment before they depart, none of which this lot did. We’re really hacked off with them that they chose to do this," he added.
"The vessel was detained by us as an unsafe craft. They hadn’t got a radio which was working on the Coastguard emergency Channel 16 and the flares were completely out of date." The sailors, who named as Gunter Ludvig and Bernard Drucker from Germany and Claude Allan, of Boulogne, were trying to present a goodwill message in a bottle to the chairman of Shepway District Council as part of a partnership agreement between the areas.
However, after being held by police in the cells all the way through yesterday, they only managed to present their message today. George Bunting, the chairman of Shepway District Council, said: "In this particular case we would advise our friends to use a more orthodox form of transport next time they visit us."
The three were eventually released without charge.