Several migrants drowned while trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable dinghy to reach Britain on Wednesday, reports said – a coastguard official said a rescue operation was still underway
More than 20 people are believed to have died in a boat tragedy in the English channel in a desperate bid to reach the UK.
Reports said several migrants headed for Britain died after their vessel sank in the Calais area. They were crossing the Channel in an inflatable dinghy, BFM TV reported, citing French police sources.
Following the sinking, Dunkirk prosecutors opened a criminal investigation for ‘manslaughter’ and ‘assistance with illegal immigration in an organised gang’.
It follows claims that people smugglers had organised the passage of the overcrowded boat, charging thousands to those on board to get to Britain.
A spokesman for Dunkirk prosecutors confirmed the opening of the investigation, saying preliminary reports were already being compiled.
Migrants being rescued by the Dungerness Lifeboat today ( Image: Tim Merry)A French government spokesman said the tragedy happened soon after 2pm on Wednesday and by late afternoon a rescue operation was still underway.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Paris earlier said: “At least five people died have died. The toll could be heavier.”
Around 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, a fisherman reported the discovery of about fifteen bodies floating off Calais.
“A French Navy vessel recovered several bodies, including five dead people and five unconscious, according to an early report.”
It has since been reported that more than 20 have died, with local reports saying 24 bodies have been found.
The death toll makes it the worst small boat tragedy since the current crisis escalated in 2019.A spokesman for French coastguards said ‘rain and extreme cold’ together with rough seas had contributed to the disaster.
Migrants launching an inflatable boat and setting off for the UK
Migrants launching an inflatable boat and setting off for the UK ( Image: Steve Reigate Daily Express)French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he was on the way to the scene of the accident.
One fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, earlier told Reuters he had seen two small dinghies on Wednesday, one with people onboard and another empty.
He said another fisherman had called the rescue operation after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.
The Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said the rescue operation is ongoing.
A group of more than 40 migrants run on the beach with an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France