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A fishing boat sounded the alarm earlier on Wednesday after spotting several people at sea off the coast of France.
The French AFP news agency has reported that five people have died while other French media have reported that five others were found unconscious.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin confirmed on Twitter that people had died but did not give a number.
And French prime minister Jean Castex said the shipwreck was a “tragedy”.
“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injury,” he said.
Le naufrage survenu dans la Manche est une tragédie.
Mes pensées vont aux nombreux disparus et blessés, victimes de passeurs criminels qui exploitent leur détresse et leur misère.
Je suis la situation en temps réel.@GDarmanin se rend sur place.
— Jean Castex (@JeanCASTEX) November 24, 2021
An rescue operation is under way in the Channel by air and sea as French and British authorities search for anyone still in the water.
Three French vessels were close to each other in the middle of the Channel off Calais on Wednesday afternoon, according to the vesselfinder app.
A number of people are also believed to have reached Britain in small boats on Wednesday, with people seen being brought ashore in Dover by immigration officials.
The Dover Strait is the busiest shipping lane in the world and has claimed many lives of people trying to cross to Britain in inflatable dinghies.
More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats this year – three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.