Death toll in migrants boat horror could rise: Channel search operation goes into the night amid unconfirmed reports that several people may still be unaccounted for in tragedy that has claimed four lives
- Four migrants have died after their inflatable boat capsized on the Channel
- The migrants, from Afghanistan, Iraq, Senegal and India paid £5k for the trip
- Fishing crews in the area responded to Mayday calls preventing more lost lives
- It is feared the death toll may rise as some people are unaccounted for
Four migrants died after their flimsy dinghy capsized in the Channel yesterday as a heroic fishing crew rescued more than 30 others from the icy waters.
In harrowing scenes likened to a war movie, desperate migrants screamed for help and clung on to the sides of the 80ft scallop boat Arcturus.
Captain Raymond Strachan, 54, said he was woken just before 3am by his crew who had found people in the freezing waters.
Those he rescued said they came from Afghanistan, Iraq, Senegal and India, and told him they had each paid £5,000 to a smuggler in France for passage to the UK.
Some 39 migrants were rescued yesterday from the freezing English Channel after their boat sank in the early hours of the morning
Survivors said they had paid a people smuggling gang £5,000 per person for the crossing
They were each given a warm shower before being handed the crew’s dry clothing and covered with quilts to get their body temperatures up.
Moments earlier, the passengers had made a frantic call for help – in which children could be heard sobbing while others prayed – to French charity Utopia 56.
They left a message at 2.53am saying: ‘We are in a boat, we have a problem. Please help us. There are children, there are families in the boat. Water is coming into the back of the boat. We are in the water and we have a family.’
As the charity raised the alarm, the fishermen also made a mayday call to other vessels and eight more migrants were rescued in a major operation involving the coastguard and Royal Navy.
Some survivors – including women and children – were said to be still fighting for their lives last night.
Among four children rescued, the youngest was an Afghan boy of 11.
Fishing boats, the RNLI, the Royal Navy, French Navy and coast guards were all involved in the rescue operation
Some 43 migrants were thought to have been on board but there were unconfirmed reports that there could have been several others who may still be unaccounted for.
Home Office sources said the search operation was likely to continue late last night and the death toll may climb.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his sorrow at the ‘tragic loss of human life’ in the deadliest Channel tragedy since November 2021 when 27 migrants died.
It came just a day after he set out a five-point plan to tackle the crisis, including a new small boats command to lead UK operations in the Channel. Home Secretary Suella Braverman described the tragedy as a ‘terrible event’, telling the Commons: ‘These are the days we dread.’
Some 43 migrants were thought to have been on board but there were unconfirmed reports that there could have been several others who may still be unaccounted for
A huge rescue operation is launched after a migrant boat carrying more than 30 people capsized in the freezing cold English Channel. Circled is one of the RNLI rescue boats
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke added that she was ‘very saddened to hear that lives have been lost’.
Speaking of the moment he was faced by the unfolding tragedy, experienced skipper Mr Strachan said: ‘It was like something out of a Second World War movie, there were people in the water everywhere, screaming.’
He described finding one person ‘hanging off my wire’, adding: ‘I thought at first it was just him. I stopped my boat and ran outside and along the port side there were five of them hanging off the side.’
Mr Strachan told Sky News he counted more than 40 people either holding on to the collapsed dinghy or surrounding his fishing boat off the coast of Kent. The six-member crew started to pull survivors aboard, eventually managing to rescue 31 people including four children.
Border Force rescue response is now ‘well-honed’ machine
Former Border Force director general Tony Smith told Sky News that the operational response to incidents in the Channel was now well-honed and ‘an awful lot of lives’ have been saved.
‘I think we can only count our blessings that we haven’t seen more incidents like this,’ he said.
‘But we really do need to hammer home the message through media not to do this, not to pay smugglers to get into a boat.
‘It’s very tempting when you can see the cliffs of Dover from the beaches of Calais, sometimes it looks very simple, but these are dangerous waterways…
‘We’ve really got to discourage people from trying this and not falling into the hands of human smugglers who really don’t care about human life.
‘I’ve dealt with them in my career. They’re not interested in that they’re only interested in the money.’
Mr Smith said that would-be migrants ‘don’t want to be detected’ on the French coast because they will be stopped, and often choose to embark at night.
‘This will have been dark, it will have been cold, the people will have been frightened but they would have been assured by the pilot or by somebody behind this, ‘This is easy. Don’t worry about this. It’s not very far. Just get in here, and everything’s going to be okay.’
‘And that’s what happens. So that’s why the messaging is so important… please do not, do not engage with human smugglers to get across the English Channel.
‘We have to stop this, we have to stop the boats because I’m afraid this is highly, highly dangerous.
‘When a vessel runs into trouble on the English Channel, we cannot guarantee your safety – we can only do everything in our power to try and save lives.
‘But we cannot guarantee that because these are really, really difficult conditions and these are dangerous waters and I’m afraid that message is not played up enough in this whole debate.’
In dramatic scenes, medics were said to have been dropped via helicopter on to the small fishing boat to tend to those plucked from the deathly cold waters.
Mr Strachan added: ‘The dinghy started to drift away, so I steamed towards the dinghy and we secured it with a rope to the side of the boat. We were trying to pull them off the dinghy.’
In disturbing footage, the fishing crew can be seen trying to haul out panicked survivors who were sandwiched between the sides of the collapsing dinghy.
Some 15 migrants including a number of children – many without life jackets – can be seen in the clip desperately clinging on to the sinking vessel in the darkness. The captain said the crew spent two hours pulling people from the water in the freezing conditions, adding: ‘Adrenaline kicks in and you find the strength to get these guys safe’. But with temperatures thought to be as low as -4C (25F) in the water overnight, the brave fishermen were not able to save everyone. Tragically, some disappeared under the water.
Mr Strachan said one migrant had used the fishing gear to attach himself to one side of the boat but had drowned. ‘We had been concentrating on the port side and this one person had swum to the starboard side,’ he said. ‘When I put my boat into gear his body floated up.’
Owner of the scallop boat, Ben Squire, told the Mail: ‘If the crew hadn’t been there then all those people would have died.
‘The migrant’s boat was grossly overloaded, it wasn’t fit to take ten people let alone 45. Luckily the Arcturus was able to get alongside that little dinghy and got as many as possible on board.
‘Sadly they couldn’t get every one of them, people were dying there and then, but they did get 31.’
He added: ‘I’m incredibly proud of them, they put themselves at risk leaning over like that when there is a danger of going in. While they’ve got the training to deal with people going overboard, nothing is going to prepare you for a situation like that.’
He said Mr Strachan, who is described as a ‘calm, confident’ leader ‘knew exactly what to do’ once the survivors were on aboard. ‘You could see the carnage, the panic of the people in the water and the noise,’ he said. ‘That must have been overwhelming for the skipper and the crew.
He said some of those rescued were in a worse state than others.
The crew had been on the water for three days when they stumbled upon the tragedy and wasted no time getting back to work.
Mr Squire said: ‘They had another three days to do and they’ve already gone back out fishing again… Ray and the crew saved so many lives, they acted quickly and are all heroes.’
Tory Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, said: ‘Some of the survivors are still fighting for their lives and I understand that some of them are women and children.’
The fishing crew said there were children among those who had been plucked from the water
It is feared the death toll may rise after reports there may be more people missing from the sunken boat
Owner of the scallop boat, Ben Squire, told the Mail: ‘If the crew hadn’t been there then all those people would have died.’ Pictured: One of the rescued migrants
A young boy from Albania was said to be recovering well in hospital but has been left traumatised by his ordeal. ‘Denis’ was among those pulled to safety and is believed to have been with an Albanian friend.
A translator reportedly said he was left traumatised after learning that four others had drowned. He comes from Skhoder, a town in the north of the country renowned for its high murder rate and mafia-style gangs.
It has become an infamous set-off point for Albanians travelling to northern France in order to buy a place on an illegal Channel boat to Britain.
Video adverts on social media offer minibus rides from Skhoder to Dunkirk. One posted recently featured a grey people carrier and boasted: ‘Journeys every day. 100 per cent secure.’
Boris backs push to ignore ECHR and send asylum seekers to Rwanda
Boris Johnson is backing a Tory push to ignore rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and resume sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Legislation being introduced in the House of Commons later is designed to heap pressure on Rishi Sunak to press ahead with the controversial policy.
The PM vowed yesterday to restart flights, part of a deal done with the Rwandan government to host Channel arrivals as applications are being processed.
But Tory MP Jonathan Gullis – who is putting forward the Asylum Seekers (Removal to Safe Countries) Bill – said it ‘will ensure that Parliament, not unaccountable foreign judges in Europe, have the final say’.
Along with Mr Johnson, former home secretary Priti Patel is said to be backing the legislation.
Other ‘co-sponsors’ include Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and Tim Loughton.
The proposals are being introduced as a 10-minute rule Bill – a route that rarely results in an addition to the statute book.
However, it is likely to force a vote and turn up the heat on Mr Sunak over his approach to the ECHR – which is separate to the EU.
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