Migrants are escorted ashore after having crossed the Channel, in Dungeness, Britain, November 24 2021. Picture: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS
Migrants are escorted ashore after having crossed the Channel, in Dungeness, Britain, November 24 2021. Picture: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS

Paris — At least 30 people died after their dinghy capsized on Wednesday while trying to cross the Channel between France and Britain, in what officials called the worst disaster involving migrants in the waterway separating the countries.

According to fishermen, more migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions, though the water was bitterly cold. One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.

 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he was “shocked and appalled” by the deaths.

“I just want to say I am shocked and appalled and deeply sad by the loss of life that I see in the Channel,” Johnson said. “My thoughts and sympathies are the 31 victims and their families and it is in an appalling thing that they have suffered. But this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.”

 The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Overloaded dinghies often barely stay afloat and are at the mercy of waves.

Earlier, the local coast guard said they could not yet confirm the number of deaths, adding that rescue services had found around 20 people in the water of whom only two were conscious.

They estimated that there had been about 30 people on the dinghy before it capsized.

French interior minister Gérald Darmanin said he was heading for the coast. “Strong emotion in the face of the tragedy of numerous deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel,” he wrote in a tweet.

Johnson will chair an emergency meeting later on Wednesday, his spokesperson said.

Three helicopters and police and rescue boats were still at the scene, looking for people missing from the capsized vessel, said maritime minister Annick Girardin.

Early on Wednesday, Reuters reporters saw a group of over 40 migrants head towards Britain on a dinghy.

While French police have prevented more crossings than in previous years, they have only partially stemmed the flow of migrants wanting to reach Britain — one of the many sources of tensions between Paris and London. 

Reuters 

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