Asylum seeker who piloted 'unseaworthy' boat over Channel as four migrants drowned to death guilty of manslaughter

19 February 2024, 14:15

Bah has been convicted over migrant deaths
Bah has been convicted over migrant deaths. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

An asylum seeker who piloted an "unseaworthy" boat in the Channel when four migrants drowned has been convicted of manslaughter.

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Ibrahima Bah, from Senegal, killed them as they tried to make the hazardous journey on December 12 2022.

The craft, a low-quality inflatable built at home, should not have held more than 20 passengers but at least 43 were crammed onto it.

Most had paid thousands of euros to be on board.

Duncan Atkinson KC, prosecuting, said Bah appeared to have piloted the dinghy in lieu of paying.

But he had no training or licence, and the boat did not have enough life jackets or flares.

"He, as the pilot, owed to the passengers of that small and vulnerable boat for their safety during the crossing that he had agreed to make," Mr Atkinson said.

"He was aware that the boat was overcrowded, lacking in safety equipment and, as it took in water, that it was increasingly unseaworthy."

Bah has been convicted of manslaughter
Bah has been convicted of manslaughter. Picture: Alamy

The migrants had water at their knees within half an hour of leaving France.

They screamed and tried to use their phones to call for help.

But Bah was said to have kept going towards the UK despite the increasing peril.

Read more: Albanian TikTok influencers to be paid thousands to warn migrants against crossing Channel in small boats

A fishing boat, the Arcturus, had to intervene to save them along with help from the RNLI, air ambulance and Border Force.

The skipper shouted for the migrants to "calm down, I'm going to take you there".

While 39 passengers were brought back, at least four drowned. The death toll may be higher, and at least one migrant's body was never found, Mr Atkinson said.

The names of three of the confirmed dead are not known.

One was called Hajratullah Ahmadi.

Migrants have been making the dangerous Channel crossing for years
Migrants have been making the dangerous Channel crossing for years. Picture: Alamy

The migrants had been taken to the shore in three cars organised by Kurdish smugglers, who also transported the boat there. The migrants had to help inflate it.

Asylum seeker Ghanam Gul Ahmadzai said they would sometimes beat the group.

Bah told the court he was beaten and threatened with being killed when he refused to pilot the craft.

He said he agreed to do it after negotiating free travel for himself and a friend.

But Mr Atkinson told jurors his story about refusing to pilot the boat had changed.

Read more: Person charged with assisting illegal entry to UK after migrants discovered in back of a lorry

Bah told police he had travelled from Senegal to Mali, then Algeria and Libya, and was then taken to Italy by boat with smugglers.

The defendant, who is at least 18 years old, had dreamed to come to the UK since 2019, when he left the African country.

While in Senegal, he had worked on fishing boats and would sometimes help with steering them.

And he had helped pilot the boat from Libya to Italy.

Libby Clark, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Bah claimed that he had sailed boats before and, as a result, received free passage, whereas everyone else on the boat had paid thousands of Euros to make the tragic journey.

"The boat he piloted was never designed to undertake a crossing in the world's busiest shipping lane and would have been all but invisible to other ships.

"Navigation was carried out with just mobile phones, as there were no other navigational aids available.

"There is no evidence to suggest that Bah had any training in piloting a boat like this or keeping people safe and, as the pilot, he assumed responsibility for ensuring the safety of his fellow passengers.

"Any reasonable person would have recognised that by piloting such an ill-equipped and overloaded boat in such dangerous circumstances, there was an obvious risk of serious harm to the passengers. As a result of Bah's actions, four men tragically lost their lives in the Channel that night. Our thoughts remain with their families."

Bah is due to be sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court on February 23.