Two children among four dead after migrant boat capsized off French coast

27 October 2020, 14:07 | Updated: 27 October 2020, 18:49

A major search and rescue operation is under way involving military boats and a helicopter
A major search and rescue operation is under way involving military boats and a helicopter. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Four people, including two children, have died after a migrant boat sank off the coast of France, authorities have confirmed.

The children were aged five and eight and searches are ongoing for any more migrants involved in the tragic incident.

A large-scale search and rescue operation was launched on Tuesday after a sailboat spotted the vessel in difficulty at Loon-Plage near Dunkirk.

Three of the 18 survivors were rushed to hospital in cardiac arrest. It is feared children could be among those still missing while two infants are believed to be among those rescued.

Wind gusts of up to 18mph were recorded as the boat attempted to reach the UK.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she is "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," she added.

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A French urgent medical aid service helicopter landing at Dunkirk port
A French urgent medical aid service helicopter landing at Dunkirk port. Picture: Getty
A group of 18 survivors were taken to hospitals in northern France
A group of 18 survivors were taken to hospitals in northern France. Picture: PA

"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."

Later in the evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a statement on the tragedy.

He said: "My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in the Channel today.

"We have offered the French authorities every support as they investigate this terrible incident and will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys."

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Read more: Migrant dies trying to cross the Channel from France to the UK

Two people had already died trying to make the perilous journey across the Channel this year, including one earlier this month.

Customs and Navy patrol boats were deployed to the vicinity, assisted by a lifeboat, a fishing vessel and a Belgian Air Force helicopter.

The survivors were taken to hospitals in Calais and Dunkirk, according to the Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea.

The public prosecutor of Dunkirk has opened an investigation into the causes of the sinking.

Dover and Deal MP Natalie Elphicke said: "It is terrible that tragedy has struck in the Channel again. People traffickers have no regard for life, no matter how old or young.

"These perilous crossings must be stopped, once and for all, before there is more loss of life in these stormy winter seas."

Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins said: "This is an avoidable tragedy and shows how important it is for migrant boats to be intercepted at sea before they get to the UK side of the channel.

"We must stop people traffickers from profiting whilst putting lives in danger."

Following the tragedy, Care4Calais, a charity working in Northern France, urged the UK Government to "provide a safe and legal process by which refugees can have their UK asylum claims heard".

A spokesperson said: "This unnecessary loss of life has to stop. No one should ever feel they have to get into a fragile craft and risk their lives crossing the Channel, least of all children.

"Refugees feel pushed to take these risks because of the policies of the French and British governments."

The charity's founder Clare Moseley said the refugee community in Calais is "utterly devastated" after hearing of the tragedy.