French rescuers reached sinking migrant boat '15 minutes after RNLI'

First French lifeboat reached sinking migrant boat ’15 minutes after the RNLI and was already rescuing people’ despite capsized vessel being only five miles from the French coast

  • Small boat incident on Saturday saw at least 58 people rescued off French coast
  • Sources claim the first French lifeboat arrived 15 minutes after the RNLI vessel  

French rescuers reached a migrant boat which sank in the English Channel killing six people some 15 minutes after an RNLI vessel arrived – despite it happening only five miles from the French coast, sources have claimed.

Major questions were raised today over how France’s authorities responded to the incident on Saturday which saw at least 58 people – many of them Afghans – rescued after the boat got into difficulties off the coast of Sangatte on Saturday.

The accounts of survivors suggested about 65 people had boarded the overloaded vessel before a passing ship saw it sinking and raised the alarm at around 4.20am. 

Sources told The Times that the first French lifeboat was on the scene 15 minutes after the RNLI vessel arrived – which had already started rescuing survivors.

Some 22 people were rescued and dropped off in Dover, including by the RNLI crew, which was launched at about 4am, and a British chartered ship. At least 36 others were collected by French boats and taken to Calais, as well as those who died.

It follows two fatal Channel crossing incidents in November 2021, when 27 migrants died – the highest recorded number of deaths in an incident – and December 2022, when four perished, which resulted in a blame game between the UK and France.

Migrants were rescued on Saturday after a boat carrying about 65 sank off the coast of France

Rescued migrants sit on a French rescue ship on Saturday after their boat sank in the Channel

An RNLI boat brings 50 migrants ashore at Dover on Saturday morning after the major rescue

Paramedics in Dover assist a migrant who had been trying to cross the Channel on Saturday

But Britain is keen to avoid damaging the £480million deal agreed with the French in March which it is claimed has helped reduce crossings compared to last year.

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The French are said to be intercepting just over half of attempted crossings, but the number of French police officers on patrol on their beaches has dropped a fifth this month due to a high number on annual leave, reported The Times.

It comes as scores of migrants were seen heading for beaches in northern France last night, apparently undeterred by the deaths of the six men.

A total of 509 people crossed the English Channel in ten boats on the day of the tragedy on Saturday.

Wales Secretary David TC Davis defended the Government’s immigration strategy yesterday amid renewed pressure, including from Tory MPs, over its ‘stop the boats’ pledge following the incident.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made tackling the crossings one of five key priorities for his leadership and asked people to judge him on his management of the problem.

MPs have called for action against criminal people-smuggling gangs profiting from the journeys while campaigners have described the deaths as an ‘appalling and preventable tragedy’.

Meanwhile, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said action to deter criminal gangs facilitating the journeys is ‘desperately’ needed.

Care4Calais said it was an ‘appalling and preventable tragedy’, while the Refugee Council warned ‘more people will die’ unless more safe routes to the UK are created.

Paramedics in Dover on Saturday wait to tend to assist migrants picked up in the Channel

A photo released by the French Navy on Saturday shows the search and rescue operation

People hold a banner with the names of migrants who have died crossing the channel since 1999 during a rally in Calais yesterday following the tragedy on Saturday off Sangette

Channel crossings skyrocketed last year, with the UK seeing 60% more crossings than 2021

Home Secretary Suella Braverman described the incident as a ‘tragic loss of life’ and said she had chaired a meeting with Border Force officials later on Saturday.

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It comes after the Government was accused of allowing its ‘small boats week’ of linked announcements on immigration to descend into farce following the removal of dozens of asylum seekers from the Bibby Stockholm barge.

Senior Tory backbencher David Davis said the ‘startling incompetence’ of the Home Office had been laid bare after all 39 people on board the 500-capacity vessel were disembarked due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

But ministers intend to push on with plans to hire more barges to house asylum seekers, as well as student halls and former office blocks, The Telegraph reported.

The people who had been on the Bibby Stockholm, which had been billed as a cheaper alternative to expensive hotels for those awaiting the outcome of their claims, are now back being housed in other accommodation.

The Home Office has said the health and welfare of asylum seekers ‘remains of the utmost priority’ and that the evacuation took place as a precautionary measure, with all protocol and advice followed.

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