IT IS the gruesome discovery which has laid bare the lengths smugglers go to transport people into Britain.

The footage of stowaways emerging from a shipping container at Tilbury Docks, Essex, huddled in blankets and desperately breathing for air has sent shockwaves through the nation.

One of the 35 trapped Afghans died from the ordeal, while many fellow occupants – including 15 children – needed hospital treatment after spending an estimated 18 hours in the metal tomb on a ship travelling from Belgium.

Daily Echo: City Deal will allow major expansion of Southampton's port.

The port of Southampton

Two men from Northern Ireland have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and facilitating illegal entry into the UK.

But the incident has turned the spotlight on not just ferry ports, but also container ports in the battle to stop illegal immigrants coming into the country.

So as one of the county’s busiest container docks, how protected is the Port of Southampton to ensure a tragedy does not occur in Hampshire?

Policing the country’s borders in the battle against human trafficking, drug smuggling and counterfeit goods is a 24-hour operation.

Southampton is one of the country’s biggest container ports and prides itself as Europe’s most efficient.

Each year 1.5 million containers are handled at the port, with 39 million tonnes of cargo handled last year.

More than 450 cruise ships visited the city last year, with the port handling 1.7 million passengers.

Security is a mammoth operation overseen by the UK Border Force on behalf of Associated British Ports (ABP).

The force has a dedicated headquarters set up on site, but security measures start even before ships reach land.

The agency deploys five cutters and a surveillance aircraft patrolling the entire length of the country’s coast to intercept vessels suspected of drug shipments or illicit cargo.

Southampton is one of four British ports with officers stationed from the National Deep Rummage Team who can board vessels as they tie up and perform thorough searches.

Teams of sniffer dogs and officials on foot also check containers and vehicles passing in and out of the port.

Some containers and packages are opened and searched, while high-tech scanning equipment allows them to check loads externally.

Seizures in the past year have included £10m worth of counterfeit designer watches, belts and handbags, 1.2 million cigarettes, 1,134 decorative swords and 1,126 packages of counterfeit soft toys.

The force also works in partnership with HMRC, the National Crime Agency and Border Policing Command to share intelligence and improve methods.

Force director general Sir Charles Montgomery said: “Smugglers are trying increasingly sophisticated methods to circumvent the border.

“As a result we are constantly seeking to improve our methods of detection and identify new and more efficient ways of working.

“The force is the first line of defence in protecting the UK from serious and organised crime.

“The skill and experience of our officers helps keep drugs and other illegal goods out of the country and off our streets.”

Stuart Marsh, security and operations manager at the port, pictured, said: “We are committed to maintaining a safe and secure environment on the port estate and we work closely with our partners in the Border Force.”

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ABP Southampton security and operations manager Stuart Marsh

Meanwhile a network of other forces help clamp down on human trafficking throughout the county and across the south.

Police in Hampshire were among forces saving nearly 600 suspected human trafficking victims in the first three months of this year alone.

Figures recorded by the National Crime Agency reveal 566 potential victims were identified in Britain up until March.

Two of these were referred to the authorities by Hampshire Constabulary.

The NCA figures show that of the 392 adults reported to the National Referral Mechanism – which assesses victims – 195 were discovered to have been trafficked.

The most common reason for adults being trafficked was sexual exploitation, cheap labour and domestic servitude, but one individual was transported for organ harvesting.

A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman urged the public to “look beneath the surface” to help track down those behind it.

He said: “Human trafficking destroys lives and damages communities, it is modern day slavery.

“Our priority is to protect vulnerable people at risk of abuse and violence by traffickers and criminals who exploit others for profit.”