A mayday call by French coastguard requesting urgent help from “all ships” during yesterday’s Channel boat emergency has been obtained by Sky News.
Twenty-seven people – 17 men, seven women and two teenage boys and a girl – died while trying to cross to the UK in a flimsy boat, which capsized near Calais. Two people survived and were taken to hospital with hypothermia.
In the mayday call, the coastguard can be heard putting out an alert to all boats in the area.
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The radio operator gives co-ordinates and asks nearby vessels to attend, telling them that 15 people are in the water.
The operator says: “Mayday relay, mayday relay, mayday relay. This is Gris-Nez emergency, Griz-Nez emergency, Gris-Nez emergency.
“Information number one: Mayday. 15 man overboard, approximately. 15 man overboard.”
They add: “All ships in this area are requested to have a [unclear] lookout to proceed to this area to take contact and report any information to Gris-Nez emergency co-ordinating this operation.”
Charles Devos, regional manager of life boat association (SNSM) in Calais, was one among the first people at the scene.
He told Sky News that he dragged six bodies from the sea, including a pregnant woman, and seeing those drowned was “traumatic”.
“I can’t remember such a tragedy. It’s inexplicable,” he said.
“I saw the blow-up boat had really deflated. Was it a valve that came loose or did it hit an object? You never know but I don’t think it was a collision.”
And he said: “I think it happened due to overloading. Don’t forget, you think the sea is calm. The sea isn’t calm because it’s nearly always choppy.”
Mr Devos went on: “It’s very, very shocking. It was a bit like the film Titanic when you saw all these people plunged into the water, drowning, with no means of being able to be rescued.
“Unfortunately we were only able to recover the dead people.”
Describing the dinghy, he said: “It was an inflatable, very light boat that was around 10m long.”
He added: “It’s not the first time I’ve boarded this type of boat. It’s really light boats that are overwhelmed. The tragedy came about because the boat was overwhelmed. Boats that transport 20 people, we find them with around 50 people on them”.
The Kurdish government has confirmed to Sky News that Kurds were on the boat and it has appealed to the UK and EU for help stopping migrants leaving Iraq.
The two survivors were Somali and Iraqi.
Wednesday’s loss of life is the worst of the current migrant crisis, which has seen the number of people reaching the UK surge to more than 25,000 this year.
The UK insists France must do more to stop the crossings, while France says the UK should deter people from wanting to enter the country in the first place.
French interior minister Gerard Darmanin told RTL radio that migrants are “often attracted” to the UK jobs market and blamed human trafficking gangs who promise the “El Dorado of England”.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, told the Commons the deaths were a “dreadful shock” but “not a surprise”.
“It does need a Herculean effort and it will be impossible without close cooperation between all international partners and agencies,” she said.