Two children aged five and eight and two adults have died after a boat capsized off the French coast in stormy weather while trying to cross the Channel to the UK, as a search for a fifth victim – feared to be a baby – continued this morning.
Emergency services rushed to the stricken rigid inflatable boat (RIB) after the migrants screamed ‘Help us, we’re sinking!’ in a frantic Mayday call which was picked up by an English yachtsman nearby, who then alerted the authorities.
The two children died along with a woman and a man after being pulled from the sea. Searches resumed at dawn today to find a fifth migrant who has not been accounted for and is believed to be the infant child of the dead woman.
Fifteen survivors, who suffered cardiac arrest and hypothermia, confirmed that a baby had fallen into the water as the boat began to sink near the Loon-Plage region of Dunkirk just after 9.30am yesterday.
It is believed to be the single biggest loss of life during the current migrant crisis, and brings the total number of deaths since 2018 to 10. Marlene Schiappa, deputy French interior minister tweeted that the death toll ‘is heavy and still uncertain’.
Emergency services rushed to the stricken rigid inflatable boat (RIB) after the migrants screamed ‘Help us, we’re sinking!’ in a frantic Mayday call. Pictured are emergency services at Dunkirk harbour
A French rescue helicopter lands at Dunkirk port yesterday during the operation to rescue the stricken migrants
Retired coastguard officer Andy Roberts said yesterday’s horrific incident was predictable.
France ‘turned away oil tanker hijackers’
France refused to take seven stowaways from an oil tanker that was later hijacked off the Isle of Wight, it was claimed last night.
The Nave Andromeda, which was stormed by special forces on Sunday, is said to have asked French port authorities if they could take the men five days earlier.
The claim was made by the shipping journal Lloyd’s List.
Richard Meade, its editor, said: ‘The stowaways were discovered… and the standard protocol is to inform the nearest coastal state, which it appears was France – but they refused to accept them.’
‘It’s absolutely tragic,’ he added. ‘Something like this was always eventually going to happen and sadly it now has.
‘There is no way that boat was ever going to successfully cross the Dover strait.’
His words were echoed by Home Office Clandestine Channel Threat Commander Dan O’Mahoney, who said he was ‘deeply saddened’ to hear of the deaths and added there was ‘no way’ the boat was going to get across the Dover Strait.
He said the weather was ‘appalling’ at the time, with wind speeds of 42 knots (around 48mph).
Survivors reportedly gave their nationalities as Iraqi and Kurdish Iranian.
Last night sources told The Sun: ‘The boat had not left French waters but the conditions were pretty tough.
‘The radio message came in at about the same time a yachtsman had reported seeing the vessel in difficulties.
‘It was incredibly fortunate the alarm was raised quickly enough for a rescue operation to be mounted.’
The tragedy will intensify the pressure on the Government to broker a deal with the French to finally stop the crossings.
Boris Johnson said: ‘My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in the Channel today.
‘We have offered the French authorities every support as they investigate this terrible incident and will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys.’
Searches resumed at dawn today to find a fifth migrant who has not been accounted for, who is feared to be the infant child of the dead woman. Pictured are police in Dunkirk yesterday
Seven migrants have died trying to cross the Channel this year – three more than last year’s toll.
French citizenship minister Marlene Schiappa tweeted her ‘great sadness’ and said the overall toll was ‘serious and still uncertain’.
Herve Tourmente, an official with the Nord department, said stormy conditions had made the attempted crossing from Loon-Plage, near Dunkirk, especially perilous yesterday.
‘This is the heaviest toll we’ve ever had in the North,’ he said. It seems one person, who might be an infant, is still missing.’
An English yachtsman raised the alarm after spotting the stricken rigid inflatable boat, or RIB, at around noon.
This triggered a massive search and rescue operation involving a lifeboat from Gravelines, a French customs patrol boat, the Dunkirk pilot boat, a nearby fishing vessel and a Belgian air force helicopter.
Rescuers reached the sinking boat and pulled at least 15 people out of the water.
The five-year-old could not be resuscitated and the eight-year-old died in hospital. Survivors, some of whom were treated at hospitals in Dunkirk and Calais, gave their nationalities as Iraqi and Kurdish Iranian.
One migrant was winched from the waves by the crew of the Belgian helicopter as darkness fell.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘I am truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters this morning.
‘We are in touch with our French counterparts who are leading on the response and have offered whatever support they need as they investigate this incident.
‘This tragic news highlights the dangers that come with crossing the Channel and I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people.’
Last October Miss Patel pledged that illegal Channel crossings would be an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ within six months.
But at least 7,500 migrants are known to have crossed to England by small boat so far this year – more than four times the total for the whole of 2019.
Miss Patel has been negotiating with the French government to step up patrols on their coastline but no deal has yet been reached.
She wants Paris to agree to migrant boats being turned around in the Channel and sent back to France.
The Dunkirk prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the incident.
Those responsible could face a variety of charges including manslaughter and operating within a criminal gang to exploit the victims.
This photo of a ferry entering Dover on Tuesday demonstrates the stormy weather at the time of yesterday’s incident
Public prosecutor Sebastien Pive said six migrants were taken into custody for interview.
A spokesman for the charity Save the Children said: ‘The English Channel must not become a graveyard for children.
‘The British and French governments must work together to expand safe and legal routes for desperate families fleeing conflict, persecution, and poverty.
‘Parents shouldn’t be compelled to risk their children’s lives in search of safety. No child should have to make a dangerous, potentially fatal, journey in search of a better life.’
High of 7,565 Channel crossings so far this year
There have been some 7,565 Channel crossings this year alone which have forced the Government to use former barracks as migrant camps.
Just 1,850 migrants tried to make the crossing in 2019.
A record-breaking 409 migrants made it across the Channel on September 2.
And the figure includes a single-month record of 1,954 in September.
So far this month, 436 migrants have been detained.
Conservative Lee Anderson (Ashfield) told the Prime Minister the asylum system is ‘broken and being abused’, to which Mr Johnson replied in the Commons: ‘I have a great deal of sympathy with those who are so desperate as to put their children in dinghies or even children’s paddling pools and try to cross the Channel.
‘But I have to say what they’re doing is falling prey to criminal gangs and they are breaking the law. They’re also undermining the legitimate claims of others who would seek asylum in this country.
‘That is why we will take advantage of leaving the EU by changing the Dublin regulations on returns and we will address the rigidities in our laws that makes this country, I’m afraid, a target and a magnet for those who would exploit vulnerable people in this way.’
The massive rise comes despite a vow from Home Secretary Priti Patel last autumn to have made the crossings an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ by this point.
The Home Office has sought to blame French authorities and ‘activist lawyers’ for the increase and for difficulties removing asylum seekers once they arrive in Britain.
The previous monthly record for migrant arrivals was 1,075, set in July. August’s arrivals saw 235 reach Britain on just one day – which was also a record.
Miss Patel is seeking a deal with French authorities that would allow migrant boats to be turned back in the Channel. No agreement has yet been reached.
At the beginning of September, the Mail revealed the taxpayer was hit with a £1billion bill for the asylum system last year.
Clare Moseley, founder of aid charity Care4Calais, said: ‘It is cruel and horrifying that this time young children are among the victims.
‘This unnecessary loss of life has to stop. Refugees feel pushed to take these risks because of the policies of the French and British governments. This loss of life should be a wake-up call.’
Former child refugee Lord Alf Dubs, who was part of the Kindertransport which rescued children from the Nazis, said the loss of life was ‘heartbreaking’.
The Labour peer wrote on Twitter: ‘Today’s tragic loss of life in the Channel, involving children, is heartbreaking.
‘These deaths are a result of the increasing desperation of refugees as their legal routes to safety close.
‘Without legal routes their journeys are dangerous and traffickers are the only winners.
Folkestone MP Damian Collins said boats had to be intercepted before they got to the UK side of the Channel.
He added: ‘We must stop people traffickers from profiting while putting lives in danger.’
Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said: ‘It is heartbreaking that young children should be involved in this tragedy.
‘These boats are so dangerous. The gangs who organise them profit from other people’s desperation.’
The latest tragedy in the Channel comes after a migrant drowned while attempting to make the crossing on Sunday, October 18.
The police and fire brigade were called to the beach at Sangatte near Calais at around 8am after his body was spotted in an orange life jacket.
Despite an autopsy last week confirming he died of accidental drowning while trying to reach the UK from France, his identity has not yet been revealed.
He is being referred to as ‘BB’ within migrant aid groups until his next of kin have been informed.
The man, who is understood to be aged in his 20s and was discovered by horrified rescue workers near the town hall, was identified by a friend to the medical examiner’s office.
Both police and the coroner are satisfied he was Iranian despite being found with no documents with him.
Humanitarian organisation Seeking Sanctuary paid their respects on Saturday by laying flowers at a plaque in Dover, Kent dedicated to all migrants who have died.
An autopsy last Tuesday found the latest migrant to have lost their life while attempting the crossing died of accidental drowning.
French news website France Bleu said rescuers found 50 Euros on the body of the man.
It is believed he died within hours of trying to make the treacherous 21 mile crossing of the Dover Strait.
A post mortem will be held in due course while an investigation is underway into the death.
The victim was the second to die this year making the treacherous crossing.
Sudanese national Abdulfatah Hamdallah, 28, drowned while trying to make the crossing in August in a 3ft dinghy.
Two people also died last year.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement posted on Twitter yesterday that she was ‘truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters this morning’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK had offered ‘every support’ to French authorities as they investigate the ‘terrible incident’
Former child refugee Lord Alf Dubs, who was part of the Kindertransport which rescued children from the Nazis, said the loss of life was ‘heartbreaking’
Iranian Mitra Mehrad, 31, drowned after falling overboard while saving a baby’s life, according to a friend.
She was travelling on a small dinghy carrying 19 other migrants – including a child and a baby – when she went missing in horrendous conditions on August 9.
A huge air search and rescue operation was launched by British authorities after three people went overboard wearing life jackets off the Kent coast.
Ms Mehrad had jumped into the water in a bid to reach a rescue rope from another boat as the one they were travelling on began to sink.
The other two were quickly recovered, but Ms Mehrad could not be tracked.
Her body was found on Dutch waters on August 18, and she is believed to be the first person to have died while making the perilous crossing.
An Iraqi man also drowned after attempting to swim over using plastic bottles as a life jacket and wearing diver fins.
A total of 7,565 migrants have now attempted to make the perilous crossing across the English channel this year compared to just 1,850 in 2019.
In September alone 1,954 made the crossing in small boats.
So far this month, 436 migrants have been detained.
Sudanese national Abdulfatah Hamdallah (left), 28, drowned in August while trying to make the crossing in a 3ft dinghy. Iranian Mitra Mehrad, 31, drowned in the same month after falling overboard while saving a baby’s life, according to a friend