More than 30 migrants died on Wednesday as a group sought to cross the English Channel from France to the UK when their boat sank off the coast of the northern port of Calais.
Police and coast guards were on site and a rescue operation was underway. The MarineTraffic app, which gives the position of ships in the area, showed three rescue boats and a helicopter at sea in one place.
Franck Dhersin, deputy director of regional transport and mayor of Teteghem on the north coast of France, said the death toll had reached 31 and two people were still missing.
Four people have been arrested in connection with the incident, the French interior minister said.
“1,500 people have been arrested since the beginning of January, including four today”, declared Gérald Darmanin during a press conference.
“We suspect they were directly related to this particular passage.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will organize a Cobra emergency committee to coordinate a response, said the tragedy had highlighted the dangers of crossing the Channel.
A fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, said Wednesday he saw two small inflatable boats in difficulty, one with people on board and the other empty.
He said another fisherman called rescue teams after seeing an empty drifting dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, unconscious or dead.
He confirmed there had been an increase in dinghies attempting to cross the Channel on Wednesday because the weather was good.
“But it’s cold,” he said.
The death toll increases
French Prime Minister Jean Castex declared the incident a “tragedy” and offered his condolences.
“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injuries,” he said.
France’s interior ministry previously said patrol boats found five dead bodies and five people unconscious in the water after a fisherman sounded the alarm.
Three helicopters and three boats were sent to help with the search, local authorities said.
Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin, who was attending the scene, said “many people” had died in the incident.
“The criminal nature of the smugglers who organize these crossings cannot be condemned enough”, he declared.
The death toll continued to rise on Wednesday as rescuers found more bodies.
“Twenty-four bodies have been recovered and 26 people are alive,” Dhersin said at first, although he reported that the death toll had reached 31.
The disaster, the worst loss of life on recent migrant crossings in the English Channel, comes as tension mounts between London and Paris over record numbers of people crossing, Britain urging France to take action more severe to prevent them from making the trip.
French authorities say 31,500 people have tried to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea. The figures have doubled since August.
Johnson “appalled” by the deaths
The Channel Seaway is the busiest in the world and has claimed the lives of many people trying to get to Britain in rubber dinghies.
Seven people have been confirmed dead or still missing fearful of drowning after incidents in the Channel this year.
“I just want to say that I am shocked and dismayed and deeply saddened by the loss of life I see in the Channel,” Mr Johnson said.
“My thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families and it is a terrible thing that they suffered. But this catastrophe underlines how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.
Interior Minister Priti Patel said the death of more than 30 people after a ship capsized in the English Channel was the “strongest possible reminder” of the dangers of the crossing.
She tweeted: “My thoughts are with the families of all those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.
“It serves as the most brutal reminder possible of the dangers of these Channel crossings organized by ruthless criminal gangs.
“This is why this government’s new immigration plan will overhaul our failing asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors that encourage migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the Kingdom.” -United. “
Mr Johnson’s ruling right-wing Conservative Party is under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the number of crossings.
“This is an absolute tragedy. It highlights why saving lives at sea starts with preventing boats from entering the water in the first place,” said Dover MP Natalie Elphicke.
“As winter approaches, the sea will become rougher, the water colder, the risk of tragically losing even more lives is greater.
“This is why stopping these dangerous passages is the humanitarian and right thing to do. “
British authorities say more than 25,000 people have arrived illegally so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.
The problem has been added to mounting post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a dispute over fishing rights still unresolved.
Updated: November 24, 2021, 19:47