The number of illegal migrants that use small boats or dinghies to cross the English Channel has grown sharply this year, despite the high risks of potential maritime disasters.
According to French police and local officials, at least 27 people have died in the latest disaster, while attempting to cross the English Channel from France to England when their small boat sank off the northern coast of Calais, France.
The Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, said today that the dingy sinking death toll stood at 27, minutes after another mayor put the tally at 24.
French police said that at least 27 people had perished.
Franck Dhersin, deputy head of regional transport and mayor of Teteghem on the northern French coast said that the death toll had reached 31 and that two people were still missing.
The UN‘s International Organization for Migration called the incident the largest single loss of life in the English Channel since they started collecting data in 2014.
More illegal migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions on Wednesday, although the water was bitterly cold.
One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.
Three boats and three helicopters have been deployed to take part in the search, local authorities said.
France Prime Minister Jean Castex called the boat capsizing a “tragedy”.
“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery,” he tweeted.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “was shocked and appalled and deeply sad by the loss of life”.
“My thoughts and sympathies are the victims and their families and it is in an appalling thing that they have suffered. But this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way,” he added.
Johnson vowed his government would “leave no stone unturned to demolish the business proposition of the human traffickers and the gangsters,” after he had chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on the crossings.
Earlier on Wednesday, the French interior ministry said French patrol vessels found five bodies and five others unconscious in the water after a fisherman alerted authorities.
The incident comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of migrants crossing the Channel.
The number of illegal migrants using small boats or dinghies to cross the Channel has grown sharply this year, despite the high risks.
According to UK officials, more than 25,000 people have now arrived so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.
Britain has urged France to take stricter actions against those attempting to take the journey.