Six refugees dead after boat capsizes crossing from France to UK

12 August 2023

Six people died after a boat carrying refugees and asylum seekers heading to Britain sank in the English Channel, French maritime officials said, as a search continued to find those still missing.

News of the latest tragedy emerged in the early hours of Saturday when a passing ship raised the alarm that an overloaded boat was in difficulty off the coast of Sangatte, near Calais.

A spokesperson from the French coastal authority Premar said on Saturday that between five and 10 passengers were still missing, while 55 had been rescued.

A vast rescue operation was launched around 6 am as dozens of boats tried to make the crossing at the same time.

Reports from the French lifeboats arriving at the scene described numerous people in the sea, many screaming for help.

“Several of the boats were facing serious difficulties,” he told the Reuters news agency. “Near [the coastal town of] Sangatte they unfortunately found dead bodies.”

Human traffickers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.

“We saved 54 people, including one woman,” said Anne Thorel, a volunteer who was on one of the rescue boats, describing the migrants’ frantic efforts to bail water out of their sinking vessel using their shoes.

“There were too many of them on the boat,” she told Reuters by phone as she returned to the shore.

French authorities have stepped up patrols and other deterrent measures after London agreed in March to send Paris hundreds of millions of euros annually towards the effort.

Ten survivors were brought to Kent, some on stretchers, though the extent of injuries and exact numbers remained unclear.

On Saturday night, rescuers were still scouring the water for survivors and bodies. A French Navy aircraft and a helicopter had been deployed to help the search.

On Thursday, 755 people crossed the English Channel in small boats, the highest daily number so far this year, taking the total since 2018 past 100,000.

Although the incident happened in French territory, it is normal for British and French rescue teams to work together to save as many people as possible.

The route across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes has repeatedly proved perilous, with several capsizings and scores of refugees and migrants drowning in the waters over the last decade.

The sinking came a day after fresh Home Office humiliation when asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge were evacuated following the discovery of legionella bacteria in the water supply.

The worst Channel sinking involving migrants occurred in November 2021 when at least 27 people died after a dinghy sank while heading to the UK from France. Four people died at sea while trying to cross in December.

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