THREE people smugglers are in an Almeria prison after a small boat with 35 illegal North African immigrants on board was rescued just off the provincial coast.
The just eight-metre long and two-metre wide craft had set off from a Moroccan beach to try and reach Spain, but was intercepted six nautical miles to the east of Cabo de Gata.
Investigations into which of the group had been skippering the craft began once the immigrants were safely on dry land and had received the necessary assistance, leading to the identification of the trio.
Police said one, 28-year-old Moroccan national KZ, had acted as the contact with the organisation behind the people smuggling operation. He had sorted out the price of the crossings with the immigrants and once they were all on the beach ready to set out had allocated each their space on the boat.
A second, 34-year-old AA, had the job of handling the motor and the tiller. From interviews with the immigrants it emerged he had also instructed them that if the craft were to be caught they were to tell the authorities they had all taken it in turns to steer.
The third detainee, a 45-year-old of Algerian origin, shared steering duties with the 34-year-old and had responsibility for the GPS and compass.
According to police each of the immigrants paid some €3,500 for their passage to Spain.
The three arrested men have been charged with a crime against the rights of foreign citizens and are being held behind bars awaiting trial.