Police in Spain have smashed a people smuggling network that used jet skis to traffic migrants across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco.
The gang, which is said to have made daily trips with its human cargo across the short stretch or water, is said to have charged its customers as much as €5,000 per head.
Having arrived in Spain after a 10-minute crossing, migrants were taken to an address in the southern port city of Algeciras, where they would be held for a number of hours while the traffickers checked that their relatives had paid in full for their journey.
The gang is said to have used multiple watchmen to make ensure border control officers would not catch them while they crossed the strait or landed in various locations in southern Spain.
Two members of the network were detained in the North African enclave of Ceuta, while another was arrested in Algeciras. Another two smugglers were said to be on the run, and are now the subjects of international arrest warrants.
The three men were remanded in custody after being charged with people trafficking and kidnap offences.
A police spokesperson said the gang put the lives of migrants at risk, noting that some had suffered injuries after the jet skis they were travelling on crashed into rocks.
Separately, 600 migrants were rescued this week while attempting to make the crossing from Morocco to Spain in vessels that included flimsy toy boats.
Spanish coastguard officers picked up 593 migrants, including 35 children and a baby, who were travelling on rafts on the Strait of Gibraltar on Wednesday.
Migrant crossings from Morocco to Spain have become more common over recent months, as people looking to reach Europe have sought alternatives to the hazardous Mediterranean route.
Arrivals of migrants in Italy fell by 57% in July to 10,160, the lowest level for the month of July since 2014, according to the latest figures from Frontex.
“Several factors contributed to the significant drop in activity on the Central Mediterranean route in recent weeks, including worse sea conditions in the first half of July,” Frontex said.
“Clashes near Sabratah, a key departure area in Libya, have also affected the smuggling operations there. In addition, increased presence of the Libyan Coast Guard also discouraged the people smugglers from sending out boats with migrants.”
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) last week warned that Spain could soon surpass Greece to become the most popular point of entry to Europe for migrants. The IOM said migrant arrivals by sea in southern Spain have tripled so far this year.
These figures do not include migrants arriving in Ceuta and Melilla, another Spanish enclave on the North African coast bordered by Morocco.