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Made in China: 'Refugee boats' available on Alibaba.com

China is the main source of rubber dinghy imports to Malta: between 2012 and 2016, €1.3 million in merchandise was imported

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
24 April 2017, 6:59am
Human traffickers are using rubber dinghies which are available for a few hundred dollars
Human traffickers are using rubber dinghies which are available for a few hundred dollars
The EU has for months talked about disrupting the business model of human traffickers in Libya, including destroying boats used to carry asylum seekers across the Mediterranean. 

However, smugglers are using rubber dinghies which are available for a few hundred dollars on Alibaba.com, the world’s largest online trading platform. 

Chinese-made dinghies – advertised as ‘refugee boats’ – can be bought for $300 and these are transhipped to Libya through Malta and Turkey.

This was confirmed last year by a leaked report by the head of the EU’s main intelligence operation targeting smuggling in Libya. The report, published by Wikileaks in February 2016 revealed that Maltese Customs authorities stopped a container with a cargo of 20 packaged rubber boats similar to those used to carry people from Libya to Europe.

“Reports of rubber boats being imported from China and transhipped in Malta and Turkey are supported by a recent interception by Maltese Customs officers of 20 packaged rubber boats in a container destined for Misrata, Libya. As there are no legal grounds for holding such shipments, it was released for delivery to its destination,” the report said.

The report also said that two-thirds of all trips from Libya are made on rubber dinghies and smugglers are facing constant shortages of the larger and sturdier wooden vessels.

NSO data requested by MaltaToday shows that China is the main source of rubber dinghy imports in Malta, whether for sale here or for transhipment through the Malta Freeport: between 2012 and 2016, a total cost value of €1.3 million was imported in rubber dinghies, a total of 5,092 pieces, working out at an average of €256 each. The standard cost of the Alibaba boats retail at between $300-$500.

This year alone, there have been 36,703 arrivals through the central Mediterranean route, a 44% increase over the same period in 2015. According to the International Organisation for Migration, 989 people died in their attempt to reach Europe through the same route between 1 January and 19 April. 

Rubber dingies represent between 15% and 20% of European maritime sector imports from China. In 2012 alone, Chinese maritime exports to Europe rose to $233 million.

Smugglers pay for these ‘refugee boats’ by telegraphic transfer, a form of bank transfer or by simply using their credit cards. These are then shipped to Libya, mainly through Turkey and the Malta Freeport, which is part owned by Turkish and Chinese companies.

 

‘Not likely to sink’

One such dinghy is advertised as ‘inflatable rescue refugee boat’ on Alibaba.com and costs $300-500 – around half the fee paid by asylum seekers to smugglers for a place on the boat. 

The boats which come in various lengths, ranging between 8 and 11 metres can take up to 60 passengers according to the adverts. The width varies between 2.4 metres and 3.6 metres.

inflatable rescue refugee boats can be bought on Alibaba.com for as little as $300
inflatable rescue refugee boats can be bought on Alibaba.com for as little as $300
“The boat has good capacity of anti-sinking. When the boat is in max loaded condition (even the boat is filled fully with water), the boat still can be float on the water,” the Alibaba ad says.  

The boats come with one pair of oars, a plywood seat and a foot pump, while optional equipment include sun covers, trailers, foldable anchors and life jackets. 

The description adds “the inflatable boat has float tubes on two sides. It’s not likely to sink or take on water. Otherwise, the boat will undergo professional stability test. So it will not capsize from side even in max-loaded condition (with heave wave).”

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...