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'I am finished': Haunting final words of migrants whose boat capsized in the English Channel, killing 27
9 November 2023, 18:18 | Updated: 9 November 2023, 18:37
Migrants drowning in the English Channel made a distress call to coastguard and port officials, before their inflatable boat capsized, as revealed by an independent inquiry.
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The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) disclosed many of the incidents in a report into the disaster in November 2021, killing 27 people.
Seven of the victims of the disaster on 24 November were women, including one who was expecting a baby. Three children were also said to be among those killed.
It is the deadliest incident involving migrant crossings in the Channel on record.
Bodies were later recovered from French waters.
The review also found that the boat was unsuitable and ill-equiped and that some British rescue teams stopped searching for migrants, with some of the calls from the victims went unanswered.
The review looked into an incident where someone calling the Port of Dover in Kent at 1:26 am who was "screaming for help" and the port attempted to transfer the call to the Coastguard but it was disconnected.
The caller phoned back and the second transfer worked, with the call taken by an operator at the coastguard's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), which "lasted several minutes".
The report described how a caller could be heard shouting "I am finished" and that there were 40 people on the ship.
The report continued: "The coastguard operator asked where in English waters and advised the caller to try calling 999 as they might then be able to obtain position data from the call.
"The caller replied, 'It will not work', and the coastguard operator said that if 999 did not work, they were likely to still be in French waters. The call then disconnected."
The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) was using a standalone mobile phone, not connected to the rest of the systems.
The use of a standalone mobile "was not reflected in official coastguard procedures at the time of the accident" and "brought with it a risk of missing information", according to the review.
The phone recieved two missed calls from the boat, likley unnoticed due to the busy operations room, leading to oversight.
As a result, an "unhelpful" delay of over an hour in updating the position of the boat.
After missed maday calls, ar 3:34 am a boat was located but it was not containing the passengers who called.
There was an assumption that the boat had been located as there were no further idress calls and efforts to find the migrants ceased.
Two men escaped from the inflatable craft, which French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said was "very frail... like a pool, you blow up in your garden."
The boat is thought to have "collided with a large ship" which a local French newspaper said was a "container ship", causing the boat to deflate.
Several suspected people smugglers were arrested north of Dunkirk near the Belgian border.
The only way passengers could call for help was via mobile phone, according to the MAIB report.
The fact that "multiple boats" were trying to cross the Channel and each made several distress calls made it "extremely challenging for HM Coastguard to locate and identify discrete boats".
At the time of the accident, several HM Coastguard "capacity enhancements" had been identified but were not in place, the MAIB said.
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The report recommended that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Border Force develop procedures to ensure "effective surveillance" of the Dover Strait is possible when aircraft are unavailable.
It also recommended that the MCA works with the French authorities to agree on ways of improving "the transfer of information" between the UK and French coastguard agencies during migrant crossings.
Andrew Moll, chief inspector of marine accidents, said: "This was a tragic accident in which many lives were lost.
"Our investigation has closely examined the events on the night to understand, as best we can, what went wrong so lessons can be learned to ensure a dreadful night like this is not repeated.
"The events of November 24 2021 were complex with multiple inflatable boats that were unsuitable and ill-equipped for the journey attempting to cross the Dover Strait to England."
More than 100,000 people have made the perilous crossing over the English Channel since 2018. Rishi Sunak has pledged to cut the number of people trying to cross by targeting the people-smuggling gangs who organise the journeys.
The Prime Minister agreed with France last year in a bid to slash the number of crossings.
Some 26,699 migrants have arrived in the UK via the Channel this year, according to the latest government figures.
This is a third down on the equivalent figure at this point last year, which was 39,948.