CALAIS, France, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Six people died and two others may be missing after a migrant boat trying to cross the Channel from France to Britain capsized early on Saturday, French authorities said.
French and UK rescue boats rescued nearly 60 migrants and brought them to French or British shores, and search and rescue operations are ongoing, the Maritime Province said.
Local mayor Frank Derzin said a major rescue operation was launched around 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) as dozens of migrant boats tried to cross at once.
“Several boats faced serious difficulties,” he told Reuters. “They unfortunately found dead bodies near the (coastal town of) Sankate.”
The channel between France and Britain is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and the currents are strong making crossings in small boats dangerous.
Smugglers usually overload rickety dinghies, leaving them afloat and risking being swept away by the waves as they try to reach British shores.
Anne Thorel, a volunteer on one of the rescue boats, described frantic efforts by migrants to use their boots to get water out of the sinking ship.
“There were a lot of them on the (migrant) boat,” he told Reuters by phone as he returned to shore.
Britain’s coastguard said it had dispatched a lifeboat from Dover to assist with the Channel rescue, along with a coastguard rescue team and ambulance crews.
In a separate incident on Saturday a UK Coast Guard vessel and two lifeboats helped to rescue all those aboard another small boat in the Channel, the British Coastguard added.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has spent the week making announcements about its efforts to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in small boats, hoping to win support from voters as the ruling Conservative Party lags in opinion polls.
UK government figures show that the number of migrant Channel crossings so far this year has exceeded 16,000, with 1,100 arriving in the last week alone.
In the first three months of this year, most of those traveling in small boats were from Afghanistan, India, Iran or Iraq.
In November 2021, 27 migrants died when their dinghy exploded while trying to cross the canal. This is the deadliest accident involving migrants on the narrow strip of sea that separates the two countries.
The Mediterranean is home to frequent, high-risk disasters, and on Saturday a charity rescue ship rescued 76 migrants from an overloaded wooden boat. More than 22,000 people have died or gone missing in its waters since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.
(Reporting by Pascal Rossignol and Ingrid Mélander in Calais, Tangy Salon, Christian Hartmann in Paris, David Milligan in London) Writing by Ingrid Mélander Editing by Helen Popper, Rose Russell and Frances Kerry
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