Migrant dies in hospital after boat carrying 40 people sinks trying to cross Channel

12 August 2021, 15:03 | Updated: 12 August 2021, 23:50

A rescue operation is under way after a migrant boat began to sink (file image shows migrants crossing the Channel)
A rescue operation is under way after a migrant boat began to sink (file image shows migrants crossing the Channel). Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

A rescue operation has been launched after a migrant vessel got into difficulty off the French coast.

One migrant has been airlifted to hospital from the English Channel after the boat carrying around 40 people began to sink. The person later died in hospital, The Home Office has confirmed.

The boat is believed to have begun taking on water as it headed for the UK on Thursday morning.

Others are thought to have succeeded in reaching British shores on Thursday, with reports of a beach landing in Kent.

The rescue operation, involving French and Belgian air and sea units, is ongoing, authorities in France say.

READ MORE: New daily record sees migrant Channel crossings pass 10,000 this year

Searches started at around 10am after a cargo ship reported that a boat carrying around 40 people was in difficulty, with some people overboard, off the coast of Dunkirk.

An unconscious person taken aboard the cargo ship's lifeboat and transferred onto a French Navy vessel was later airlifted to hospital in Calais.

He is believed to have suffered cardio-respiratory arrest and was evacuated aboard a Belgian Air Force helicopter, French authorities say.

The Home Office's Clandestine Channel Threat Commander Dan O'Mahoney, said: "Today someone sadly died in France following an incident in French waters during an attempt to cross the Channel.

"This loss of life is a tragedy and we are providing support to our French counterparts who are leading the response.

"This underlines the terrible dangers of small boat crossings and why we must work together with the French to prevent callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people."

Following his death, the Dunkirk prosecutor's office has opened an investigation.

Several others were also hoisted aboard the helicopter as the migrant boat was sinking while more were rescued by nearby fishing boats.

They were all transferred onto the French Navy's Flamant patrol boat which headed for the port of Dunkirk.

Search and rescue operations remained under way in the Dover Strait, with a French Navy helicopter continuing to scour the area.

A statement on Twitter released by the French Maritime Prefecture describes how cargo ship Elena reported a boat in difficulty around 13 nautical miles from Dunkirk this morning. Some people were already in the water, while others remained on board the sinking vessel.

READ MORE: 'UK is not being invaded by migrants', charity boss says after record number of crossings

Following days of bad weather in the Dover Strait, lighter conditions on Thursday have seen a flurry of crossing attempts.

The latest bids to reach the UK come after French authorities intercepted at least 108 people trying to cross the Channel on Wednesday, with one person having to be airlifted to hospital in Dunkirk.

The dangerous sea journey from France - made by more than 10,000 people including children so far in 2021 - has claimed many lives in the past.

Migrant Voice, an organisation that supports migrants within the UK, tweeted that they are "extremely saddened" to hear of the incident.

Among them were Rasoul Iran-Nejad and his wife Shiva Mohammad Panahi, who died along with their three children when their boat capsized on October 27 2020.

Their 15-month-old son Artin was reported missing following the tragedy and it was not until June this year that police confirmed a body found on the Norwegian coast was that of the young boy.

READ MORE: Well-wishers donate £200k in a day after RNLI crews abused for migrant rescues

Recent weeks have seen record numbers of migrants attempting the crossing. On 4 August a record 482 migrants crossed the channel in 21 boats. By July, the total number of migrants who succeeded in making the crossing in 2021 had already exceeded the total figure for 2020.

The RNLI has played a crucial role in rescuing migrants at sea, but has recently received a wave of abuse for doing so. One branch in London was forced to call police following a series of abusive incidents.

However, once this came to light the organisation saw a huge increase in donations from those in support of their actions, raising £200,000 in a single day.

Two years ago, LBC carried out its biggest-ever investigation into migrant smuggling gangs, identifying one of the most prolific smugglers, Waqar Ahmad.

This investigation played a major role in having Mr Ahmed convicted and jailed in France, as well as an order to never return to the country once he has been freed.