Calais, France — At least 31 immigrants to England died Wednesday when a boat sank in the English Channel.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people are believed to be on the boat. Authorities found 31 bodies, including the bodies of five women and one girl, and two survivors, he said. One still seemed to be missing. The nationality of the traveler was not immediately known.
The joint French and British search for survivors was stopped late Wednesday. The two countries are working together to prevent the transition of the entire channel.
Dharmanin told reporters in the French port city of Calais that four suspected traffickers were arrested on suspicion of being involved in a sunken ship. He said two of the suspects later appeared in court.
The local prosecutor has begun investigating manslaughter and organized post-sinking illegal immigrants and other charges. Carol Etienne, a prosecutor Lille who oversees the investigation, said authorities are still working to identify victims and determine their age and nationality.
She told The Associated Press that the investigation could involve multiple countries as more information about passengers was revealed.
“For France, for Europe, for humanity, seeing these people die in the sea is a day of great sorrow,” Dalmanin said. He blamed “criminal traffickers” and put thousands of people at risk of crossing.
The body was taken to Curry. “Traffickers are assassins,” Jean-Marc Puissesso, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told AP. “We were waiting for something like this to happen.”
“The response must also come from Britain,” Dalmanin said, calling for coordination with Britain.
French President Emmanuel Macron, according to his office, advocated immediate funding for the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, and an emergency meeting of European government ministers “concerned about the challenge of immigrants.” “France will not allow the strait to become a graveyard,” Macron said according to his office.
The French government is holding an emergency meeting Thursday morning to discuss the next steps.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened a meeting of the government’s Crisis Commission and said, “I was shocked, appalled and deeply saddened.”
He urged France to step up efforts to stop the flow of immigrants, and said Wednesday’s case highlighted how “not enough” efforts by French authorities to patrol their beaches.
He reiterated that Britain wanted to work with France to “break the business model” of smuggling gangs.
“Our suggestion is to increase our support, but also to collaborate with our partners on the beaches involved at the launching sites of these boats,” Johnson told reporters. “We had a hard time convincing some of our partners, especially the French, to do things the way they thought they were right for the situation.”
French and British authorities have welcomed thousands of migrants to the channel in dozens of rescue operations over the past few weeks.
Dalmanin claimed that France worked hard to prevent crossings, rescued 7,800 people since January and stopped 671 people trying to cross on Wednesday alone.
A French naval vessel found several bodies in the water around 2 pm, and rescue boats recovered several dead and injured from the surrounding waters, according to a spokesperson for naval officials. French patrol boats, French helicopters, and British helicopters searched the area.
Deaths may be reported at intersections, with the exception of such a large loss of life on a single boat.
Immigrants from all over the world have long used northern France as a starting point to reach Britain, either by trucking or by using smuggler-organized dinghys and other small boats. Many want to reach the UK in search of financial opportunities, for family and community ties, or for failed efforts to win asylum in the EU. French officials say another major attraction is Britain’s loose rules for immigrants without residence documents.
Despite the increased risk of autumn weather, the number of small boat intersections has skyrocketed this year.
So far this year, more than 25,700 people have done this. This is three times the total for 2020.