'No hope' of finding more survivors from migrant boat tragedy, rescuers say

28 October 2020, 13:09

Boris Johnson has promised a crackdown on "ruthless criminal gangs" organising migrant crossings following the tragic deaths of two young children
Boris Johnson has promised a crackdown on "ruthless criminal gangs" organising migrant crossings following the tragic deaths of two young children. Picture: PA

There is no hope of finding any more survivors from a migrant boat that capsized in the English Channel on Tuesday, French rescuers have said.

Four people, including two young children aged five and eight, died after the vessel sank off Dunkirk, while around 15 others were taken to hospital.

The people on board are thought to have been trying to cross to the UK, despite windy conditions and cold water temperatures.

Three of the 18 survivors were rushed to hospital in cardiac arrest.

Search and rescue boats and military resources desperately scoured the sea off the French coast for hours, looking for any survivors.

But nightfall brought a halt to the rescue operation and searches have not resumed on Wednesday.

It is believed to be the single biggest loss of life during the current migrant crisis, and brings the total number of deaths since 2018 to 10.

An investigation into the cause of the sinking has been launched by the Dunkirk public prosecutor.

Charities said such a tragedy was "the horror we dreaded" and repeated calls for safe and legal routes for asylum seekers.

The children who died were aged five and eight, French authorities confirmed.

The deaths will put pressure on the Home Office, which has repeatedly pledged to make the route "unviable".

The two youngsters, aged just five and eight, were among four who died following the sinking of a boat off Dunkirk on Tuesday
The two youngsters, aged just five and eight, were among four who died following the sinking of a boat off Dunkirk on Tuesday. Picture: PA

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday evening that the UK has offered "every support" to French authorities as they investigate the "terrible incident".

"My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in the Channel today," he added.

"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."

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was "truly saddened" to learn of the "tragic loss of life".

Military resources and civilian boats were involved in the rescue operation after the vessel was seen in difficulty near Dunkirk.

The alarm was raised by a yacht which notified search and rescue.

French patrol boats and a helicopter from the Belgian air force were dispatched as well as a fishing boat.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said there had been fears "we would see a tragedy like this for a long time".

She said: "This is an awful tragedy. For anyone to lose their lives in the cold sea like this is terrible, and when young children are involved it just makes it even more distressing.

"We have feared that we would see a tragedy like this for a long time because the boats are incredibly dangerous, the journey is perilous and we've seen an increase in the number of these small boat crossings, these really flimsy boats."

She added: "I don't think they (Home Office) do have a clear enough analysis of the reasons why people are making this journey."

Nearly 7,500 people have crossed to the UK on board small boats during 2020, data from the PA news agency shows.