Two adults and two children die after boat carrying migrants capsizes off French coast

Charles Hymas
·4-min read
A French Urgent Medical Aid Service helicopter landing at Dunkerque port, northern France, after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast - DENIS CHARLET/AFP
A French Urgent Medical Aid Service helicopter landing at Dunkerque port, northern France, after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast - DENIS CHARLET/AFP

A five-year-old and eight-year-old died and a baby is reported missing in the third fatal Channel migrant crossing in three months. It is the first involving the deaths of children.

A man and woman also died when the small boat packed with about 20 migrants sank in strong winds and freezing waters in the Channel just two miles off the French coast on Tuesday morning.

Boris Johnson said his thoughts were with the loved ones of those who had lost their lives, as he pledged the French “every support” to investigate this “terrible incident.”

“We will do all we can to crackdown on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

Dan O’Mahoney, the Home Office Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, will travel to France on Wednesday for emergency meetings with French investigators and rescue teams.

French rescue workers stand next to a rescue vessel during a search operation after a boat capsized off the coast of Loon-Plage near Dunkirk - REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
French rescue workers stand next to a rescue vessel during a search operation after a boat capsized off the coast of Loon-Plage near Dunkirk - REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Commenting on the deaths of migrants in the English Channel on Tuesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "I am truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters this morning. "My thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones at this time.

"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."

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the deaths were "truly heartbreaking".  

In a tweet, he said: "My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who lost their lives and all those affected.

"This crisis requires a compassionate response. We need an urgent change in the Government’s approach." 

The traffickers, who charge up to £3,500 per place, only get their cut of the money from their bosses when the boats are put to sea. A record 7,500 migrants have reached the UK in small boats so far this year, almost treble the 1,900 in the whole of 2019.

Around 20 migrants, thought to be Iraqi and Iranian Kurds, were packed into the stolen small boat that left the Dunkirk coast on Tuesday morning in winds of 18 mph and water temperatures of just 14 degrees.

They were spotted sinking two miles offshore by a French sailing boat called Marbuzet. A major air and sea search was launched including the French Navy, a Caiman helicopter from the Belgian air force and at least five other vessels including a local fishing boat.

One man on the boat is said to have drowned. A woman and the five year-old child were among at least 15 migrants pulled from the sea having suffered cardiac arrest. They died within minutes. The eight-year-old died in hospital.

Some of the migrants told rescuers they had seen the woman with a baby, who was missing, but no body was found and an air and sea search will resume at first light on Wednesday.

There have been two previous fatal incidents this year involving migrants. In August a Sudanese man attempting to cross with a friend in a stolen boat with shovels for oars fell overboard and died.

Abdulfatah Hamdallah - Facebook
Abdulfatah Hamdallah - Facebook

Just over a week ago, the body of a “middle eastern” man aged between 20 and 40 with no documentation was washed ashore on the beach at Sangatte.

On Tuesday night Sébastien Piève, the Dunkirk public prosecutor, opened a manslaughter inquiry. He said six survivors whose condition allowed for questioning had been placed in custody as investigators began their hunt for the people smugglers behind the tragedy.

Ms Patel tweeted: "This tragic incident highlights the dangers that come with crossing the Channel and I will do everything that I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people."

Bertrand Ringot, the Mayor of Gravelines, near to where the boat capsized, revealed on Tuesday night he had written to the French Interior Minister raising his concerns a month ago that a tragedy could occur following the theft of boats from his port and resurgence of crossings.