Deaths of 31 people in worst ever Channel migrant disaster to be investigated by French government

The French government has announced it will launch an internal investigation into how 31 migrants drowned while trying to cross the English Channel last November.

The tragedy was the worst migrant disaster ever on the stretch of water, and both French and British coastguards have been blamed for failing to help.

On 24 November 2021, a rubber dinghy carrying 34 migrants sank in the English Channel, killing 31 people and an unborn baby, despite repeatedly desperate calls to coastguard services on both sides of the Channel.

Speaking in the French parliament, Hervé Berville, the minister responsible for Maritime Affairs, said that "a police investigation is under way, and the government has also launched an internal inquiry. There will be lessons to draw from that."

Sky News, which has investigated the story intensively, first revealed communications between the sinking boat and emergency services on both sides of the Channel back in July.

Evidence from the two survivors, phone calls, text messages and emails unveiled the horror of the disaster. The phone conversations suggested that neither the French nor the British coastguards wanted to take responsibility, each believing the vessel to be in the other's waters.

A preliminary report, put together by a law firm representing the victims' families, said that the first calls for help were made around 2am and continued for over two hours, with the passengers increasingly begging for help.

The law firm's findings corroborated an earlier Sky News investigation from December 2021.

"Obviously if these facts are confirmed, and if these people were in French waters and if at any moment there was a failure or an error, then there will be sanctions taken," the French government minister told the National Assembly.

Zana Mohammad, the brother of an 18-year-old who died that night, told Sky earlier this year that he wants justice for the victims.

"The coastguards or the emergency services of both countries were negligent in not going to their help, as they [migrants] had reached out to them and had informed them of their situation. They did tell them that they needed help," he said.

"To me, the smugglers, France, and Britain get their own share of the crime, but the extent of who gets the larger and the smaller share will be decided by the court. The biggest criminals are the smugglers, the primary perpetrators are smugglers.

"But it is also true that the boat was in the waters for six hours, and they called Britain and France 80 times. France and Britain are both responsible too."