Fishing boat

New powers come into force today to further tackle modern slavery in the UK and rescue its victims.

The latest tranche of powers, under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, allow Border Force, police forces and the National Crime Agency to intercept vessels in UK waters and rescue victims they find. They will be able to board and search vessels, seize evidence and arrest offenders if they suspect modern slavery is taking place.

Minister for vulnerability, safeguarding and countering extremism Sarah Newton said modern slavery was a crime that ripped victims from their families and trapped them in a cycle of abuse at the hands of ruthless gangs.

“Officers from the Shetlands to the Isles of Scilly now have the power to arrest offenders and protect victims from this abhorrent crime whether on board a ship or on our shores,” the MP said. “Our message is clear - the UK is taking action to protect victims.”

Offenders arrested at sea for modern slavery offences face up to life imprisonment under the Modern Slavery Act.

During 2013 and 2014, the National Crime Agency identified 37 potential victims of modern slavery who reported exploitation in the maritime industry.

The latest powers follow a far-reaching policy initiative announced by PM Theresa May last week, including a taskforce to co-ordinate government action on slavery and £33.5m of foreign aid to focus on countries known to be regularly trafficking victims to the UK.

There will also be an HMIC inspection of responses by police forces to modern slavery, which is known to occur in grocery supply chains as well as domestic and general crime scenarios with an estimated 13 million victims in the UK and 45 million worldwide.