Rescue operations in the English Channel are said to have been swift after Saturday’s accident. However, because of another case, the trial of seven members of the responsible control center in northern France will begin soon.
At least six people died early Saturday morning while trying to reach Great Britain with an inflatable boat from northern France across the English Channel. Five of them drowned at sea, and another died after being taken by helicopter to Calais hospital. The migrants are also believed to have departed from the area there. In total, there were reportedly up to 66 people on the boat, most of them from Afghanistan, others from Sudan. The dead are said to be Afghan nationals.
In the French port city, at least 36 rescued people were brought ashore by a patrol boat and seven of them were also hospitalized. All the others were questioned by police at the scene, an AFP reporter reported. Up to 23 others were reportedly carried to land by a British rescue ship in Dover, with medical emergencies also among them, according to reports.
The group Calais Border Monitoring reconstructs the incident of Saturday on its website and refers to French and British media. According to the report, a merchant ship alerted the French control center Cross Gris Nez at around 4:20 am. A few minutes later, rescue ships discovered the damaged boat. It is said to have been an overloaded rubber dinghy about six meters long. Its passengers tried to scoop water out of the already drifting boat with their shoes.
An investigation launched by the public prosecutor’s office in Boulogne-sur-Mer was handed over to Paris on Saturday, Calais Border Monitoring reported. At the request of Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, Secretary of State in charge of migration Hervé Berville then visited the port of Calais and the Cross Griz Nez control center, he said. The facility, operated by military personnel, is responsible for sea rescue in the English Channel off Calais.
The rescue on Saturday morning is reported to have been carried out immediately. However, the French maritime control center is being targeted by the judiciary for failing to provide assistance in another accident. Prosecutors accuse five military personnel working there and two soldiers aboard a naval vessel of failing to arrange a rescue of an inflatable boat for more than ten hours on the night of November 23-24, 2021, even though its occupants had made at least 15 distress calls. A fisherman subsequently discovered the bodies of 27 people by chance. A total of 31 people are said to have drowned that night, with only two men surviving.
The trial of the men and women of Cross Griz Nez could begin this year because of the November 2021 accident. They are said not only not to have taken the distress calls seriously, but even to have mocked about them. However, it is also possible that British authorities were partly to blame for the incident two years ago. According to the Guardian newspaper, the authorities there had relied on people in distress drifting back into French waters. This type of pushback in the English Channel has also been evidenced by the Alarm Phone organization in an analysis.
Saturday’s new accident occurred during a period when many migrants have dared to cross the English Channel after a period of bad weather. On Thursday, 755 people in 14 boats are believed to have reached Britain, according to the British Home Office; so far, this is considered this year’s peak. On Friday, another 343 people were said to have managed the crossing. Meanwhile, 115 people are said to have been in distress at sea and rescued in the French maritime area.
A large number of the inflatable boats used in the English Channel are believed to be from Turkey and equipped with engines from China. Last week, the British Home Office therefore concluded a police cooperation agreement with the Turkish government. Because the transport to Belgium and France is mainly via Germany, the Federal Criminal Police Office and the Federal Police are also involved in this investigation. Last year, the German police seized around 1,200 life jackets as well as boat accessories during raids in North Rhine-Westphalia.
“Almost 400 people have lost their lives in the continental European-British border area since the turn of the millennium,” Thomas Müller of Calais Border Monitoring tells “nd.” The group also counts those who lose their lives trying to hide on a truck, who die or take their own lives around the camps on the French coast. Müller continues, “If we really want to avoid death at the border, there will be no way around opening the borders instead of closing them.”
Published in German in „nd“.