LONDON: According to a BBC investigation, growing evidence has emerged that French rescue services were negligent in responding to a migrant boat that sank in the English Channel last November, killing 31 passengers on board.
On Nov. 24, 2021, the French coastguard at Cap Gris-Nez received the first call from the migrant boat, according to documents seen by the BBC.
The passengers were asked to send their location from their mobile phones, which 15 minutes later located the stricken boat more than half a mile inside French waters, the BBC reported.
French operators sent the UK coastguard in Dover the coordinates 20 minutes later, saying the vessel was now in British waters.
Dover responded shortly after saying that telephone signals on the boat appeared to position it in French waters.
Transcripts of emergency calls made to the French coastguard, seen by the BBC, suggest that operators insisted passengers call the UK for assistance for more than two hours, even after a French patrol reported that the vessel was still in French waters.
A French police investigation report, leaked to the newspaper Le Monde, says the UK authorities dispatched a rescue vessel to the scene, but also asked France to dispatch its patrol boat, Le Flamant, as it was closer.
Le Flamant was never sent, the police report says.
However, call transcripts reveal that French operators continued to assure passengers clinging to the sinking boat that help was on its way, as screams were heard in the background, the BBC reported.
One conversation from the night shows an operator ridiculing the caller after the line cut. “Oh well, you can’t hear me, you won’t be saved. ‘My feet are in the water’ — I didn’t ask you to leave,” the operator said.
Material seen by the BBC also suggests operators turned away another boat passing close to the wreckage that night after it offered to help.
Only two of the passengers survived the accident, and were eventually rescued by a fishing boat the following day, the BBC reported.
“If these people were in French waters, and if at any moment there was negligence, an error, there will be sanctions,” French Minister for the Sea Hervé Berville told parliament.
Berville declined the BBC’s request for an interview and comment.
The UK Maritime Accident Investigation Branch is currently leading the British inquiry into the disaster.
Meanwhile, sources within the French judiciary have informed the BBC that they are currently considering whether to launch an investigation on the role of French rescue services.