More than 30 migrants die after boat capsizes in Channel near Calais

Nov 24, 2021 News

More than 30 migrants die after boat capsizes in Channel near Calais

At least 30 migrants have died crossing the Channel from France when their boat sank off the port of Calais, authorities said, the deadliest single disaster on the intensively-used route.

The French interior ministry said in a statement that French patrol vessels found corpses and people unconscious in the water after a fisherman sounded the alarm about the accident. Police then said in a statement that "over 20" people had died.

The disaster, the worst single loss of life recorded in recent times from migrant crossings in the Channel, comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of people crossing, with Britain urging tougher action from France to stop them making the voyage.

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5:40PM

Death toll reaches 30

At least 30 migrants have died after their boat sank in the English channel, according to the president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News: "What I know is that there were 50 people on this boat.

"What I have heard is that there are 30 people who have died, and about five or six who have been found."

5:38PM

Sadiq Khan: 'Those seeking sanctuary need safe routes'

The London Mayor said: "This is an utter tragedy.

"No one should have to risk their life in this way.

"Those seeking sanctuary need safe routes – the Government must work with the French authorities to provide them."

5:35PM

Former Home Office minister: France – stop the migrant crossings

Former Home Office minister Chris Philp called on the French to stop the migrant crossings.

The current minister for technology and the digital economy wrote on Twitter: "This an awful human tragedy – especially as France is a safe country and the journey across the Channel therefore unnecessary.

"French law enforcement must stop these crossings for the safety of those involved."

5:33PM

British Red Cross calls for plan to resettle 10,000 people a year

British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: "Reports of more lives lost today in the English Channel are truly heartbreaking and come far too soon after other recent deaths on this route.

"Our thoughts are with their loved ones, who may not even know yet what has happened.

"Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options.

"Everyone deserves to live in safety and it should be unacceptable to us that people have no choice but to make dangerous crossings in their search for this.

"There are no simple answers, but we urge the Government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.

"This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year."

5:29PM

British fisherman on the moment the French Mayday call was made

Matt Cocker, who was out in the channel on his vessel Portia at the time heard details of the French Mayday call and the response from other vessel’s on his own boat’s open radio channel.

British private fishing vessels were too far away from the scene to attempt a rescue, he told our Senior Reporter Patrick Sawer.

5:28PM

'Many' more bodies probably still at sea

The local Mayor and regional transport chief in Calais has said that many more bodies of migrants are probably still at sea. 

5:24PM

Dinghy may have split under weight of passengers

A Dover fishing skipper told the Telegraph the migrant boat went down during one of the calmest days at sea for some time, with the flimsy boat likely to have split under the weight of its desperate passenger, reports our Senior Reporter Patrick Sawer.

Matt Cocker, who was out in the channel on his vessel Portia at the time, said French vessels appeared not to have responded to Mayday calls from their own coastguard, despite the incident taking place in French waters.

He said: “The French coastguard raised the alarm at around 1pm, asking for assistance in the rescue of a boat with around 15 on board and more in the water in the north east shipping lane, 7 miles off Calais, which the French control.

“There were around 15/20 big French commercial fishing vessels off Calais at the time, but they didn’t respond. There seemed to be little by way of a rescue operation from the French.”

By contrast, vessels from HM Coastguard at Dover, along with the Border Force’s vessel BF Hurricane, responded to the emergency alert and arrived at the scene in around 45 minutes.

Mr Cocker said it was likely the migrant’s boat had been a “cheap and flimsy” one which simply gave way.

“It was absolutely flat, with probably about 30 migrant boats taking advantage of the best weather for days to cross.

“But the traffickers put them in cheap plastic inflatables. They’re not proper boats.

“They overload them and they split and deflate and the people end up in the water. They often don’t have life jackets. They don’t stand a chance.”

He added: “They often don’t even have proper motors. The traffickers are charging £3-5,000 each with 20 on board so they are really maximising their profits.”

5:22PM

Calais hospital launches emergency meeting to clear decks

According to various French media citing police sources, the death toll now stands at 27, reports France Correspondent Henry Samuel.

Calais hospital has launched an emergency "white plan" meaning it is clearing the decks to deal with the migrants.

French interior minister Gérald Darmanin is due in Calais by 7pm local time.

5:21PM

Record migrant numbers this year

More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats this year – three times the total for the whole of 2020

5:20PM

Migrants brought ashore safely earlier today

5:16PM

'For humanity's sake. Please'

Migrant charity Care4Calais tweeted: "We are devastated to hear that as many as 24 more people have died attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK. According to news reports from France, at 2pm this afternoon a fisherman raised the alarm after finding bodies floating in the sea off Calais.

"More than ever why we need a modern system of safe, legal routes enabling refugees to apply for asylum in the UK.

"After today’s tragedy, the UK asylum system must surely be regarded as intolerable by all reasonable people.

"On behalf of those who have died, we again urge the Government to scrap its anti-refugee bill and introduce a fair, modern system now.

"For humanity’s sake.

"Please."

5:14PM

Refugee Council calls to end 'cruel' tactic of pushing away 

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "It’s heartbreaking to hear that the lives of more ordinary people have been lost on a harrowing journey to Britain in search of safety.

"How many tragedies like this must we see before the Government fundamentally changes its approach by committing to an ambitious expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection?

"Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country."

5:13PM

Charity calls for cross-party support for safe routes by Christmas

Detention Action, a charity which supports people in immigration detention, was "truly saddened" by the latest deaths in the Channel, according to director Bella Sankey.

She said: "We are truly saddened by reports that more than 20 people have died today in the Channel. The number of people seeking asylum in the UK remains the same as in recent years, so it is this Government’s failures that have allowed this current crisis.

"A cross-party group of MPs have put forward a Humanitarian Visa proposal which would provide a safe route and save lives and we hope that parliamentarians will vote this in to legislation by Christmas."

5:10PM

Fisherman saw two dinghies – one with people on board, the other empty

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he was heading for the coast. "Strong emotion in the face of the tragedy of numerous deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel," he wrote in a tweet.

One fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, told Reuters he had seen two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty.

He said another fisherman had called rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.

He confirmed there were more dinghies on Wednesday because the weather was good. "But it’s cold," Margolle added.

Early on Wednesday, Reuters reporters saw a group of over 40 migrants head towards Britain on a dinghy.

The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Overloaded dinghies often barely stay afloat and are at the mercy of waves.

While French police have prevented more crossings than in previous years, they have only partially stemmed the flow of migrants wanting to reach Britain – one of the many sources of tensions between Paris and London.

5:08PM

Death toll understood to now be 27

At least 27 migrants died after their dinghy capsized on Wednesday while trying to cross the Channel from France to Britain, a local mayor said.

According to fishermen, more migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions, although the water was bitterly cold. One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told BFM television the death toll now stood at 27, minutes after another mayor put the tally at 24.

The local coast guard said they could not yet confirm the number of deaths, adding that rescue services had found around 20 people in the water of whom only two were conscious.

They estimated that there had been about 30 people on the dinghy before it capsized.

5:05PM

Boris Johnson to chair Cobra meeting

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in response to the migrant deaths in the English Channel, Downing Street said.

5:05PM

'Stopping dangerous crossings the humanitarian thing to do'

Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, said: "This is an absolute tragedy. It underlines why saving lives at sea starts by stopping the boats entering the water in the first place.

"As winter is approaching the seas will get rougher, the water colder, the risk of even more lives tragically being lost greater.

"That’s why stopping these dangerous crossings is the humanitarian and right thing to do."

5:04PM

Investigation opens into 'aggravated manslaughter'

The Dunkirk prosecutor has opened an investigation into "helping illegal residency by a criminal gang" and "aggravated manslaughter".

5:04PM

'This is the worst migrant tragedy we have known and one we have long feared'

A spokesman for the Manche Mer du Nord maritime state prefecture told The Telegraph: "This is the worst migrant tragedy we have known and one that we have long feared.

"A fisherman raised the alarm after 1pm after spotting people in the water around 10km off the coast of Calais in the busy and dangerous shipping lane halfway between France and the UK.

"We dispatched several boats to the scene and recovered around 20 people who were seen in the water but unfortunately we believe that there were around 30 people on the boat that capsized so we are continuing the search operation to find others.

"We recovered more than 25 people.  Five, all adults, have already been pronounced dead but more than 20 are still unconscious.

"A doctor is currently trying to ascertain their state of health. We believe that other migrants are still missing given that 30 were on board. Given that the water is around 10 degrees Celsius, the hope of finding of anyone alive is very, very unlikely given the time.

"We have no idea what the boat was like because the boat was not there when lifeboats arrived, they were all in the water. Two helicopters, one of them British, and three French boats are still at the scene.

"We are in contact with our British counterparts and lifeboat centres have always had very good cooperation."

5:03PM

French Prime Minister says shipwreck is a 'tragedy'

French prime minister Jean Castex said the shipwreck was a "tragedy".

"My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injury," he said.

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