Illegal immigrants were feared to have jumped off a ferry today in stormy weather in a "desperate" bid to enter the UK.
The drama unfolded as the Barfleur ferry arrived in Poole, Dorset, from the French port of Cherbourg at around midnight.
A man was found washed ashore by Sandbanks' chain ferry staff just yards from so-called millionaire's row and Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp's mansion.
Anne-Marie Clark, of the RNLI, said: "He didn't speak English, he was indicating he was with three other people so the lifeboats were launched."
A massive search began for another man and two women who were feared to be in the water in trouble as Poole Harbour was battered by gale force nine winds.
Poole RNLI inshore and all weather lifeboats, Swanage all weather lifeboat, Poole and Swanage Coastguards, a Coastguard helicopter and the police were involved.
The search was called off at about 5am after it was discovered the second man had made it ashore safely, but was still missing, and the two women were on the ferry.
Their nationality has not been confirmed but police and UK Border Agency officers were to question the man today.
A Portland Coastguard spokesman said: "The search was called off when we had information from police to say they were satisfied that two men had come ashore.
"They had one in custody but not the other. We are confident the second man is ashore somewhere but nobody knows where as yet.
"One was in a fit state to run away, the other one wasn't."
The two women were thought to have been onboard a lorry, he said.
Mrs Clark said: "Conditions were hideous, there were squalls and winds with 60mph to 70mph gusts.
"My husband, who is the coxswain, said it was as bad as it gets, these people must have been desperate to even consider jumping off a ferry in those conditions."
She added: "When they got the guy to hospital and found an interpreter, more unravelled.
"They were illegal immigrants who had stowed away. They had paid a lorry driver, there was some altercation on the ferry."
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "UK Border Agency officers are on their way to question the man in police custody.
"He was found on the shoreline last night, he went to the hospital to get checked out. They decided he was ok and he is with police."Reuse content