Channel migrants: At least 27 dead after boat capsizes near Calais

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Police officers stand next to a fire command centre arriving at Calais after at least 30 migrants died when their boat sank
Police officers stand next to a fire command centre arriving at Calais after at least 30 migrants died when their boat sank

At least 27 migrants have died after their boat sank while crossing the Channel from France to the UK, in the deadliest single disaster on the busy route.

An emergency search was sparked when a fishing boat sounded the alarm after spotting several people in the sea off the coast of France.

The toll was originally recorded as 31 but was downgraded to 27 late last night by the French interior ministry as rescuers searched for missing migrants

Boris Johnson urged France to step up efforts to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Channel after the tragic incident.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France would not allow the Channel to become a "cemetery" as he vowed to find out who was responsible for the deaths.

Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, said: "This is the fault of Boris Johnson who is forcing our country to endure this set-up because he doesn't have the courage himself to assume responsibilities in his country."

Four people have been arrested in France in connection with the incident.

08:54 PM

That's all for tonight

This live blog is now ending on a day when at least 31 migrants lost their lives trying to reach Britain's shores.

Rescuers continued to search into the night for survivors after their “frail” inflatable dinghy sunk off Calais earlier today.

The disaster represents the biggest single-day loss of life since a family of five Kurdish-Iranians drowned in October last year.

It came just hours after French police were pictured standing by as a group of more than 40 migrants put to sea in a 30ft inflatable dinghy near Boulogne.

Boris Johnson demanded the French “step up” efforts to curb illegal crossings, and said we must all work together to “demolish” the smuggling gangs “who are literally getting away with murder.”

Read how the day’s tragic events unfolded below.

08:24 PM

'Humanitarian disaster should never have happened'

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "This is a humanitarian disaster that should never have happened. It's incomprehensible that so many lives have been lost by people on a desperate and harrowing journey to Britain who were just trying to find safety.

"Surely a tragedy of this magnitude is the wake up call our Government needs to change its approach and finally commit to an expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection.

"How many more lives must be lost before we finally end the cruel and dangerous tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country?"

08:21 PM

Sharp rise in illegal crossings laid bare

08:15 PM

Lord Dubs laments 'appalling ... but not unforeseen' disaster

Lord Dubs, who tabled what became known as the Dubs amendment in 2016 - placing a requirement on the UK government to take in a number of unaccompanied refugee children - has described the evening’s events as “appalling ... but not unforseen”.

He tweeted on Wednesday evening: “An appalling tragedy in the #Channel today, but not an unforseen one. The UK government needs to increase cooperation with our French neighbours.

“And refugee children stranded in the EU, with family in the UK, should be reunited with their loved ones here, safely and swiftly.”

08:12 PM

'Deadliest Channel migrant tragedy to date'

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin

France's interior minister said the tragedy was the deadliest to date involving migrants on the dangerous crossing.

He insisted that France had worked hard to prevent crossings, rescuing 7,800 people since January and stopping 671 who were trying to cross on Wednesday alone.

08:04 PM

'More than 50' migrants were on board, says local mayor

Mr Dhersin, mayor of Teteghem, near Dunkirk, said that more than 50 migrants were in the vessel when it capsized.

The Maritime Prefecture, which is responsible for enforcing the law on the French side of the Channel, said operations were ongoing to recover bodies and look for survivors.

It said that a British helicopter from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Dover had joined the search alongside a French naval helicopter and patrol vessel, a police boat and a lifeboat.

07:57 PM

Priti Patel: Deaths are 'starkest possible reminder' of Channel crossing dangers

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the deaths of 30 people after a boat capsized in the Channel were the "starkest possible reminder" of the dangers of the crossing.

She tweeted: "My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.

"It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs.

"It is why this Government's New Plan for Immigration will overhaul our broken asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the United Kingdom."

07:54 PM

French fisherman spotted empty dinghy

Nicolas Margolle, a French fisherman, told Reuters that he had seen two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty.

He said another fisherman had called rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.

Franck Dhersin, deputy head of regional transport and mayor of Teteghem, near Dunkirk, has warned many more corpses may still be in the sea off Calais, with the death toll likely to rise.

Around 20 rescue vehicles were seen at the Paul-Devot quay in Calais on Wednesday evening, where bodies were being brought ashore.

07:42 PM

Smugglers getting away with murder, says Boris Johnson

07:38 PM

Boris Johnson: France must do more to stem flow of migrants

Boris Johnson has urged France to step up efforts to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Channel.

Speaking to broadcasters in Downing Street, Mr Johnson - who chaired a meeting of the Government's Cobra civil contingencies committee - said "what this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous craft will literally stop at nothing.

"But what I'm afraid it also shows is that the operation that is being conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported as you know with £54million from the UK to help patrol the beaches, the technical support we've been giving, they haven't been enough.

"Our offer is to increase our support but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats. That's something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened."

07:32 PM

Starmer 'devastated and heartbroken'

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Leader, said: "For lives to be lost in such dangerous and desperate circumstances is a devastating and heartbreaking tragedy. The UK Government, France and the wider international community have a duty to prevent people from being forced into such peril."

07:28 PM

Four arrested over tragedy

Four people have been arrested in connection with a migrant boat which sank in the English Channel, the French interior minister has said.

Gerald Darmanin said in a press conference that "1,500 people have been arrested since the start of January, and four of them today.

"We suspect that they were directly linked to this particular crossing".

Mr Darmanin's comments were reported live with the use of a translator on Sky News.

07:21 PM

Macron - Europe is in mourning tonight

In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron called on his European counterparts to immediately strengthen resources for the Frontex agency at the external borders of the European Union. He also called for an emergency meeting of European ministers concerned by the migration challenge.

"It is Europe at its deepest level - humanism, respect for the dignity of each person, that is in mourning tonight following the death of 31 migrants off the coast of Calais," Macron said.

07:16 PM

Search for survivors continues into the night

A search party will continue to look for any more survivors of a migrant boat that sank in the English Channel, the French interior minister has said.

Gerald Darmanin said in a press conference: "What happened today to our knowledge is that 31 people were drowned between Calais and Dunkirk.

"There are two people who have been saved, and their days are numbered.

"Amongst the 31 dead, as far as we know five were women and one was a little girl.

"We don't have any more information with regards to those people.

"We will carry on searching in the hours to come to see if there are any more people."

07:14 PM

Migrants' inflatable boat was 'very frail'

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin described the boat the migrants were crossing the Channel in as "very frail", adding "it was like a pool you blow up in your garden", according to a translation on Sky.

07:05 PM

Macron: Channel must not become a cemetery

President Emmanuel Macron said France would not allow the Channel to become a "cemetery" as he vowed to find out who was responsible for the tragedy.

07:02 PM

France 'must move migrants from Calais by force'

Migrants must be moved from Calais to the middle of France even if force is necessary, the city's MP has said.

Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News: "My message to the French authorities, which I said to them a few minutes ago, is that we need to understand that if the migrant is in Calais - or around the Channel - they will try to cross the Channel.

"We need to move them, even if by force, to health centres in the middle of France."

07:00 PM

Boris Johnson criticises French response to migrant crossings

Boris Johnson suggested the French government had not always approached the problem of the migrants crossing "in a way we think the situation deserves".

Asked by broadcasters in Downing Street what was going to change after Wednesday's tragedy, the Prime Minister said: "We've had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves.

"I understand the difficulties that all countries face, but what we want now is to do more together - and that's the offer we are making."

Asked whether he had confidence in the job Home Secretary Priti Patel is doing, Mr Johnson replied: "Yes, of course."

06:58 PM

Channel risks becoming 'new Mediterranean'

The English Channel risks becoming the new Mediterranean Sea for migrant crossings unless the UK and France work together to find a solution, the French MP for Calais has said.

Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News: "We all need, both sides of the Channel, to stop making migrants an internal argument with internal policies and try to figure out how to find a solution.

"The Channel right now is becoming the new Mediterranean Sea, it's like an open sky graveyard.

"We must find a way to end it."

06:55 PM

Death toll rises to 33

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 33 people drowned after a migrant boat capsized in the Channel, including five women and a little girl.

06:51 PM

Calais mayor: This is Boris Johnson's fault

Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais said: "This is the fault of Boris Johnson who is forcing our country to endure this set-up because he doesn't have the courage himself to assume responsibilities in his country."

06:50 PM

French sea-rescue volunteers bring bodies ashore

A French sea rescue volunteer boat carries bodies of migrants arriving at Calais harbour
A French sea rescue volunteer boat carries bodies of migrants arriving at Calais harbour

06:47 PM

Calais MP: Britain must let migrants apply for asylum overseas

Speaking to the Telegraph, Pierre Henri Dumont, a Calais MP with Les Republicains said: "We must do everything to stop this drama as soon as possible. We need to ensure that the Channel doesn't become an open-air graveyard.

"Both the French and British authorities need to take action - they need to understand that once the migrants have reached northern France it's too late and they will find a way to cross the Channel.

"The British government needs to understand they they need to give the opportunity for migrants to apply for asylum from outside the UK."

06:43 PM

'Desperate' scenes as bodies pulled from water

The scenes as the rescue operation unfolded were understood to have been “desperate”, with bodies being plucked lifeless out of the water by French coastguard vessels, writes Patrick Sawer.

A French fishing boat raised the first alarm after passing by the stricken boat shortly after it had sunk into the ice-cold Channel.

Mr Cocker, who heard the operation unfold on his boat’s radio, said: “A French fishing vessel must have gone past and they alerted their coastguard. They initially reported 15 bodies in the water but then it must have been more because of the number of fatalities reported.”

He added: “The scenes must have been desperate. Awful. Picking bodies out of the water for anyone is the end of things and you don’t want to be doing it.”

Onboard radar did not appear to show other boats in the immediate vicinity of the stricken craft, suggesting it had not been hit by a larger vessel.

It is thought at this stage that the boat was overloaded and either split or sank under the weight of its passengers.

“These are really cheaply made, flimsy craft. You can barely call them boats,” said Mr Cocker.

06:36 PM

Le Pen blames 'lax' French government

French Right-wing presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen blamed the tragedy on the French Government's "laxism" regarding smugglers.

She told BFMTV: "Laxism in migratory matters leads to tragedies."

Ms Le Pen called for a "halt to illegal immigration via asylum requests, adding "We have to stop everything that makes illegal immigrants want to come to France."

06:33 PM

Five 'still missing' at sea after boat sank

Five people are still missing at sea after their boat sank in the English Channel, the French MP for Calais has said.

Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News: "The latest information I have is that there are 29 dead and five who are still missing.

"We are still looking for nationalities and how many men, women and children there are."

06:28 PM

Smugglers 'getting away with murder', says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson described the incident as a "disaster", adding that it was vital to "break" the people trafficking gangs which, he said, were "literally getting away with murder".

Mr Johnson added that more needed to be done to stop criminals organising crossings.

He said: "It also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way."

06:24 PM

Xavier Bertrand: We must break smuggler networks

Xavier Bertrand, French Right-wing presidential hopeful and head of the Calais region tweeted: "Deep emotion and anger after the capsizing of a boat in Calais. To end these tragedies, we need even more means to break the smuggler networks, these criminals who exploit misery."

06:18 PM

'Five women and a young girl' among victims

According to Libération newspaper, five women and a young girl were among the victims.

06:15 PM

Two smugglers arrested in Calais

Two smugglers have been arrested in Calais, according to La Voix du Nord. It is not known whether they are directly related to the capsized boat.

06:10 PM

Crossing will continue despite dangers, warns Calais port boss

Migrant crossings will continue despite the dangers, the head of Calais port has warned.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News: "Even if the sea is not looking so rough, in the middle (of the English Channel) there are always many waves. It is dangerous.

"That can happen again because they try everything to get to your country.

"That's why I am very upset. I don't know what to do."

06:09 PM

Boris Johnson reacts to 'appalling' tragedy

Boris Johnson said the deaths in the Channel were "appalling" and "underscored how dangerous it is" to cross from France.

Speaking to reporters at Downing Street, he said: "I just want to say that I'm shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the Channel.

"I think the details are still coming in but more than 20 people have lost their lives.

"My thoughts and sympathies are first of all with the victims and their families. It's an appalling thing that they have suffered.

"But I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way."

06:00 PM

Lifeboat was called to boat with engine failure

According to La Voix du Nord, a CROSS Griz-Nez lifeboat was called out at 5am on Wednesday morning to assist a boat that had engine failure off Merlimont, reports France Correspondent Henry Samuel.

But those on board "kept on going" regardless. It is not known whether the boat was the vessel that capsized.

It said that the bodies of migrants are starting to arrive at the Paul-Devot quayside where recovered migrants are usually taken.

Around 20 emergency service vehicles along with port authorities are in situ.

Another convoy of fire and medical emergency vehicles are on their way. Access has been cordoned off by police.

A special motorised hoist has been brought to the site.

French interior minister Gérald Darmanin will visit the Calais hospital upon arrival at 7pm local time and hold a press conference.

05:55 PM

UK and EU must work together, says Calais port chief

The UK and the European Union must work together to find a solution to migrant boat crossings, the president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne said.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News: "All Europe and the UK, we must all try to find a solution because there will be more."

He added: "If there are 50 people in the boat and the sea is rough and some water gets into the boat then they will not be able to get rid of the water because the boat is so crowded.

"Then there is more and more water and then this happens.

"The sea is very, very cold, there is little chance of survival."

05:53 PM

Shadow home secretary: Unrealistic to patrol our entire coastline

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said action was needed to disrupt the flow of migrants before they reached the Channel coast.

"It really now has to act as the most tragic of wake-up calls to redouble our efforts to make sure that people are not out on the water in these terrible makeshift boats risking their lives," he told the BBC.

"It is unrealistic to think that the entirety of that coastline can be patrolled. We need to be looking at practical law enforcement action away from the coast as well.

"We need that wider joint law enforcement work with the French authorities to be disrupting further away from the coast. In addition to that we do need to look at safe and legal routes."

05:49 PM

'There will continue to be deaths at the border'

Charlotte Kwantes, head of Utopia 56, a charity working with migrants said: "For years we have been denouncing and warning about the dangerous situation at the border.

"As long as safe passage routes are not set up between England and France, or as long as these people cannot be given paperwork to stay in France, there will continue to be deaths at the border, whether [Gérald] Darmanin comes to Calais or not."

05:47 PM

Head of Calais port: Smugglers are murderers

People who put migrants on boats to the UK in rough weather conditions are murderers, the head of Calais port has said.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News: "I think the people who are paid by the migrants to get to your country, with such bad weather, with such rough sea, they are murderers.

"They are really murderers.

"They don't have any success trying to cross with these weather conditions. The sea is cold and the waves are big.

"They are murderers, and the poor migrants who have spent months and months to come to here, and who die so close to their dream... I don't know what to do really."

05:46 PM

French reaction as politicians condemn smugglers

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said: "Strong emotion following the tragic number of deaths after a boat of migrants capsized in the English Channel.

"The criminal nature of the smugglers who organise these crossings cannot be emphasised enough."

Meanwhile French Prime Minister Jean Castex: "My thoughts are with the many missing and injured victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery."

05:44 PM

'Channel is becoming a cemetary'

Pierre Roques, coordinator of the Auberge des Migrants NGO in Calais, said the Channel risked becoming as deadly for migrants as the Mediterranean which has seen a much heavier toll over the last years of migrants crossing.

"People are dying in the Channel, which is becoming a cemetery. And as England is right opposite, people will continue to cross."

05:42 PM

Death toll expected to rise

The drowning of at least 30 migrants in the English Channel is the worst accident ever involving people trying to cross to Britain, a local maritime prefecture official said on Wednesday.

Before the accident, a total of 14 people had drowned this year trying to make it to Britain.

"This is no doubt the worst accident involving migrants trying to make it to Britain," she said.

Franck Dhersin, deputy head of regional transport and mayor of Teteghem, said that many corpses are probably still floating at sea and that he expects the death toll will rise further.

05:40 PM

Death toll reaches 30

At least 30 migrants have died after their boat sank in the English channel, according to the president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News: "What I know is that there were 50 people on this boat.

"What I have heard is that there are 30 people who have died, and about five or six who have been found."

05:38 PM

Sadiq Khan: 'Those seeking sanctuary need safe routes'

The London Mayor said: "This is an utter tragedy.

"No one should have to risk their life in this way.

"Those seeking sanctuary need safe routes - the Government must work with the French authorities to provide them."

05:35 PM

Former Home Office minister: France - stop the migrant crossings

Former Home Office minister Chris Philp called on the French to stop the migrant crossings.

The current minister for technology and the digital economy wrote on Twitter: "This an awful human tragedy - especially as France is a safe country and the journey across the Channel therefore unnecessary.

"French law enforcement must stop these crossings for the safety of those involved."

05:33 PM

British Red Cross calls for plan to resettle 10,000 people a year

British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: "Reports of more lives lost today in the English Channel are truly heartbreaking and come far too soon after other recent deaths on this route.

"Our thoughts are with their loved ones, who may not even know yet what has happened.

"Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options.

"Everyone deserves to live in safety and it should be unacceptable to us that people have no choice but to make dangerous crossings in their search for this.

"There are no simple answers, but we urge the Government to rethink its plans for making the UK's asylum system harder to access.

"This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year."

05:29 PM

British fisherman on the moment the French Mayday call was made

Matt Cocker, who was out in the channel on his vessel Portia at the time heard details of the French Mayday call and the response from other vessel’s on his own boat’s open radio channel.

British private fishing vessels were too far away from the scene to attempt a rescue, he told our Senior Reporter Patrick Sawer.

05:28 PM

'Many' more bodies probably still at sea

The local Mayor and regional transport chief in Calais has said that many more bodies of migrants are probably still at sea.

05:24 PM

Dinghy may have split under weight of passengers

A Dover fishing skipper told the Telegraph the migrant boat went down during one of the calmest days at sea for some time, with the flimsy boat likely to have split under the weight of its desperate passenger, reports our Senior Reporter Patrick Sawer.

Matt Cocker, who was out in the channel on his vessel Portia at the time, said French vessels appeared not to have responded to Mayday calls from their own coastguard, despite the incident taking place in French waters.

He said: “The French coastguard raised the alarm at around 1pm, asking for assistance in the rescue of a boat with around 15 on board and more in the water in the north east shipping lane, 7 miles off Calais, which the French control.

“There were around 15/20 big French commercial fishing vessels off Calais at the time, but they didn’t respond. There seemed to be little by way of a rescue operation from the French.”

By contrast, vessels from HM Coastguard at Dover, along with the Border Force’s vessel BF Hurricane, responded to the emergency alert and arrived at the scene in around 45 minutes.

Mr Cocker said it was likely the migrant’s boat had been a “cheap and flimsy” one which simply gave way.

“It was absolutely flat, with probably about 30 migrant boats taking advantage of the best weather for days to cross.

“But the traffickers put them in cheap plastic inflatables. They’re not proper boats.

“They overload them and they split and deflate and the people end up in the water. They often don’t have life jackets. They don’t stand a chance.”

He added: “They often don’t even have proper motors. The traffickers are charging £3-5,000 each with 20 on board so they are really maximising their profits.”

05:22 PM

Calais hospital launches emergency meeting to clear decks

According to various French media citing police sources, the death toll now stands at 27, reports France Correspondent Henry Samuel.

Calais hospital has launched an emergency "white plan" meaning it is clearing the decks to deal with the migrants.

French interior minister Gérald Darmanin is due in Calais by 7pm local time.

05:21 PM

Record migrant numbers this year

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

05:20 PM

Migrants brought ashore safely earlier today

Migrants are brought ashore onboard a RNLI Lifeboat, after having crossed the channel, in Dungeness - Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Migrants are brought ashore onboard a RNLI Lifeboat, after having crossed the channel, in Dungeness - Henry Nicholls/Reuters
A migrant boy smiles after arriving ashore onboard a RNLI Lifeboat - Henry Nicholls/Reuters 
A migrant boy smiles after arriving ashore onboard a RNLI Lifeboat - Henry Nicholls/Reuters
 Migrants are brought ashore  - Henry Nicholls/Reuters 
Migrants are brought ashore - Henry Nicholls/Reuters

05:16 PM

'For humanity's sake. Please'

Migrant charity Care4Calais tweeted: "We are devastated to hear that as many as 24 more people have died attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK. According to news reports from France, at 2pm this afternoon a fisherman raised the alarm after finding bodies floating in the sea off Calais.

"More than ever why we need a modern system of safe, legal routes enabling refugees to apply for asylum in the UK.

"After today's tragedy, the UK asylum system must surely be regarded as intolerable by all reasonable people.

"On behalf of those who have died, we again urge the Government to scrap its anti-refugee bill and introduce a fair, modern system now.

"For humanity's sake.

"Please."

05:14 PM

Refugee Council calls to end 'cruel' tactic of pushing away

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "It's heartbreaking to hear that the lives of more ordinary people have been lost on a harrowing journey to Britain in search of safety.

"How many tragedies like this must we see before the Government fundamentally changes its approach by committing to an ambitious expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection?

"Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country."

05:13 PM

Charity calls for cross-party support for safe routes by Christmas

Detention Action, a charity which supports people in immigration detention, was "truly saddened" by the latest deaths in the Channel, according to director Bella Sankey.

She said: "We are truly saddened by reports that more than 20 people have died today in the Channel. The number of people seeking asylum in the UK remains the same as in recent years, so it is this Government's failures that have allowed this current crisis.

"A cross-party group of MPs have put forward a Humanitarian Visa proposal which would provide a safe route and save lives and we hope that parliamentarians will vote this in to legislation by Christmas."

05:10 PM

Fisherman saw two dinghies - one with people on board, the other empty

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he was heading for the coast. "Strong emotion in the face of the tragedy of numerous deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel," he wrote in a tweet.

One fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, told Reuters he had seen two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty.

He said another fisherman had called rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.

He confirmed there were more dinghies on Wednesday because the weather was good. "But it's cold," Margolle added.

Early on Wednesday, Reuters reporters saw a group of over 40 migrants head towards Britain on a dinghy.

The Channel is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Overloaded dinghies often barely stay afloat and are at the mercy of waves.

While French police have prevented more crossings than in previous years, they have only partially stemmed the flow of migrants wanting to reach Britain - one of the many sources of tensions between Paris and London.

05:08 PM

Death toll understood to now be 27

At least 27 migrants died after their dinghy capsized on Wednesday while trying to cross the Channel from France to Britain, a local mayor said.

According to fishermen, more migrants left France's northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions, although the water was bitterly cold. One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told BFM television the death toll now stood at 27, minutes after another mayor put the tally at 24.

The local coast guard said they could not yet confirm the number of deaths, adding that rescue services had found around 20 people in the water of whom only two were conscious.

They estimated that there had been about 30 people on the dinghy before it capsized.

05:05 PM

Boris Johnson to chair Cobra meeting

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in response to the migrant deaths in the English Channel, Downing Street said.

05:05 PM

'Stopping dangerous crossings the humanitarian thing to do'

Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, said: "This is an absolute tragedy. It underlines why saving lives at sea starts by stopping the boats entering the water in the first place.

"As winter is approaching the seas will get rougher, the water colder, the risk of even more lives tragically being lost greater.

"That's why stopping these dangerous crossings is the humanitarian and right thing to do."

05:04 PM

Investigation opens into 'aggravated manslaughter'

The Dunkirk prosecutor has opened an investigation into "helping illegal residency by a criminal gang" and "aggravated manslaughter".

05:04 PM

'This is the worst migrant tragedy we have known and one we have long feared'

A spokesman for the Manche Mer du Nord maritime state prefecture told The Telegraph: "This is the worst migrant tragedy we have known and one that we have long feared.

"A fisherman raised the alarm after 1pm after spotting people in the water around 10km off the coast of Calais in the busy and dangerous shipping lane halfway between France and the UK.

"We dispatched several boats to the scene and recovered around 20 people who were seen in the water but unfortunately we believe that there were around 30 people on the boat that capsized so we are continuing the search operation to find others.

"We recovered more than 25 people. Five, all adults, have already been pronounced dead but more than 20 are still unconscious.

"A doctor is currently trying to ascertain their state of health. We believe that other migrants are still missing given that 30 were on board. Given that the water is around 10 degrees Celsius, the hope of finding of anyone alive is very, very unlikely given the time.

"We have no idea what the boat was like because the boat was not there when lifeboats arrived, they were all in the water. Two helicopters, one of them British, and three French boats are still at the scene.

"We are in contact with our British counterparts and lifeboat centres have always had very good cooperation."

05:03 PM

French Prime Minister says shipwreck is a 'tragedy'

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.

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