LONDON: An Iranian man has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of four members of an Iranian-Kurdish family in the English Channel.
Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35, Shiva Mohammed Panahi, 35, and their children Anita, 9, and Armin, 6, drowned on Tuesday after the boat they were in capsized as they attempted to cross the Channel from France.
Their 15-month-old son, Artin, and two people are still missing. An official from the French coastguard said there is no hope of finding any more survivors, after a search-and-rescue operation in “unfavorable” conditions was called off on Tuesday night.
The Iranian suspect was allegedly piloting the semi-rigid vessel, which was carrying 22 people from the Grande-Synthe migrant camp near Dunkirk, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Dunkirk prosecutor Sebastien Pieve said the man was arrested after survivors who were taken to hospital gave statements to police.
“He told us he was just a migrant but the information we have gathered against him, notably from 13 others who were interviewed, suggests that he is close to the smugglers and his claims do not stand up,” Pieve said.
The man, who is in provisional custody, is under investigation and faces charges of involuntary homicide, endangering the lives of other people, helping “illegals” as part of an organized gang, and criminal association, according to reports. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 10 years and be deported from France after serving his sentence.
Pieve said an aim of the police inquiries is to dismantle the smuggling ring responsible for the people being on the vessel.
A growing number of migrants are attempting risky journeys across the Channel in small, dangerous vessels provided by smugglers because of a reduction in the number of commercial sea crossings between the UK and France as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 7,400 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, compared with about 1,800 during the whole of 2019, according to Press Association calculations.