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Asylum seekers plucked from lilo

LONDON, England -- Two Lithuanian asylum seekers have been caught trying to paddle across the English channel on children's inflatable rafts.

The two men were picked up by a passenger ferry and taken back to France after spending 10 hours on what coastguards called "a children's lilo" in the world's busiest shipping lane, the UK Press Association said.

French police released the men without charge on Monday evening, PA said.

A spokesman for border police in the port of Calais said: "The pair were both released after their passports were found to be in order, but they did not have visas for the UK.

The Lithuanians had been plucked from the raft about seven miles off Calais by the P&O Stena Line ferry SL Provence and taken back to France, a spokesman for Dover coastguard in southern England said.

A spokesman said it had been a "desperate more than dangerous" attempt to reach the UK.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "This just shows the desperation of these people to get to this country."

Gail Isted, spokeswoman for P&0 Stena Line, said the men had their passports in waterproof bags, and were fully clothed.

She told PA: "The 0430 sailing from Dover was going across the Channel when the crew noticed two individuals on lilos.

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

A spokesman for the French coastguard said that the men were met by French police.

He added: "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 people, illegal immigrants."

The incident is the latest in a number of cases in which asylum seekers have attempted to enter the UK illegally in recent years.

The most horrific incident was the death of 58 Chinese immigrants whose bodies were found in a lorry at Dover.

In April, three people held on to the side of a passenger ferry for 20 miles as it crossed the Channel to Dover overnight.

They had used an inflatable dinghy to row alongside the SeaFrance ship as it prepared to leave Calais before climbing on to a metal fender six feet above sea level.

In June, seven asylum seekers stole a boat in France and rowed to Britain.

Last year two Romanians were rescued by lifeboat after they were picked up off the UK's south Devon coast as they tried to sail a 22ft boat from France using a road atlas to navigate.

Rail services have also been targeted. In March, nine Romanian gypsies, including a three-year-old girl and two pregnant women, hid under a Eurostar train that reached 186mph on its way to Waterloo International station in London.

They spent three hours on the journey from Paris in a cramped compartment under a carriage that can hold luggage or freight.

In February, an Iraqi refugee died and another broke both legs after they leapt 20ft from a bridge on to a moving train heading for Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

There have also been attempts by air. In June, aircraft stowaway Mohammed Ayaz plunged 20,000 feet to his death from a jet coming into land at London's Heathrow airport after hiding in the plane's undercarriage.

Last year two Cuban stowaways fell to their deaths from a plane near Gatwick airport near London.

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