English Channel Rescue: Everything We Know So Far

A major search operation went ahead and four people have been reported dead.
The Dover lifeboat returns to the Port of Dover after a large search and rescue operation launched in the Channel off the coast of Dungeness, in Kent.
The Dover lifeboat returns to the Port of Dover after a large search and rescue operation launched in the Channel off the coast of Dungeness, in Kent.
Gareth FullerPA

A rescue mission was underway in the English Channel after a small boat, believed to have migrants on board, got into difficulty at sea early this morning.

Four people have been reported dead so far, but 43 people were apparently saved by authorities.

Here’s everything we know so far as the story unfolds.

Morning reports

The coastguard said it received distress reports at 3.05am.

Some reports estimated there were up to 50 people on board.

The English Channel waters are believed to be below freezing, at around -4C, although overnight weather conditions were calm. This may have encouraged people to make the dangerous journey.

The boat allegedly capsized, pushing people into the water.

Small boat incident in English Channel
Small boat incident in English Channel
PA Graphics/Press Association Images

Those on board

Early reports said there were three dead, but dozens saved.

One of the rescue team told Sky News that around 43 people were saved from the water, although the number of confirmed fatalities is expected to rise.

Search will continue all day, but it’s no longer a quest for survivors due to the hostile temperature of the water.

The rescue operation

The first helicopter arrived before dawn, and used thermal cameras to spot body heat in the water.

Two search and rescue helicopters, RNLI lifeboats and other UK and French navy boats all worked together in the English Channel, off the coat of Kent, near Dungeness.

Lifeboats were sent to Dover, Dungeness, Hastings, and Ramsgate, while coastguard rescue teams have gone to Deal, Dungeness and Folkestone.

Helicopters from Lydd and Lee on Solent and one from the French Navy were involved too, along with a fishing vessel nearby.

South East Coat Ambulance and Kent Police contributed as well.

A parallel track line is still being used to look for people at the scene. This is when helicopters fly parallel lines across the area.

But, the strong currents of the Channel can mean survivors can be dispersed in the water quickly, while the freezing temperatures means there is a survival time of one to six hours, according to Sky News.

Forensic tents have been set up at lifeboat stations too.

Political response

Home secretary Suella Braverman said she was aware of the incident and “being constantly updated” earlier this morning.

She made a statement about the “distressing” incident in the Commons at 12.30pm, vowing to create “more safe and legal routes” and to end “the illegal crossings in the Channel”.

“We will introduce new legislation to make it unambiguously clear that if someone comes to the UK illegally, they should not be able to remain here.

“Instead, they can expect to be detained and swiftly returned either to their home country or to a safe country, where their claim for asylum will be considered.

Late or spurious claims and appeals will not be possible. Once someone has been removed, they will have no right to re-entry, settlement or citizenship.

“This will act as a deterrent and it will save lives.”

Braverman also took the opportunity to talk about migrants coming to the UK generally.

“Our capacity in this country is not infinite. We cannot accept everybody who wishes to come to this country,” she said.

PM Rishi Sunak said he would bring in new laws to crack down on illegal immigration only on Tuesday.

Natalie Elphicke, Dover’s MP, claimed Sunak was “taking personal responsibility” for the asylum seekers arriving from the Channel.

She added: “It is a matter of great urgency that the boats are stopped entering the water from France.”

She also asked Sunak to hold a summit with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to stop “criminal gangs”.

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper described the incident as “awful” and “distressing”.

Backlash is building

Strong words from the charity sector supporting refugees suggests this could be the beginning of another political row for Downing Street.

British Red Cross’s director of refugee support Alex Fraser said: “That anyone is making this journey in these temperatures shows just how desperate people are.

“Nobody puts their life at risk like this unless they feel they have no other option, and until we have more accessible safe routes for people to claim asylum there is a danger we may see more such incidents.”

It’s worth noting this incident comes just over a year since the worst-ever migrant disaster, when 31 people died in the Channel.

A rubber dinghy with 34 people on board sank on 24 November, 2021, sparking major division over how to look after arriving migrants.

Chief executive of Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton, said today’s Channel deaths were “heartbreaking”.

“Let’s be clear, today’s tragedy and those on previous days are predictable and inevitable and caused by hostile government policies – such as those announced yesterday by the prime minister – which are designed to keep people out and not keep people safe,” he said.

More than 40,000 people have reached the UK via small boats on the English Channel in 2022 alone.


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