Home   Dover   News   Article

Channel deaths: Call logs reveal French and British coastguard passed buck as 32 drowned with French closing rescue operation nine hours before bodies found

Harrowing call logs reveal French and British authorities passed the buck while 32 men, women and children drowned in the Channel.

Screams could be heard in the background as asylum seekers on board the stricken dinghy spoke to the French coastguard but were told to phone 999 instead as they were thought to be in English waters.

The sunk dinghy off Calais Picture: Local lifeboat crew
The sunk dinghy off Calais Picture: Local lifeboat crew

Dozens of calls were made to both the British and French with communications between both authorities showing they were aware of the unfolding situation, which happened in the early hours of November 24 last year.

French authorities cut off a call, wrongly told victims a life boat was on its way and closed the operation at 4:34am because they received no more calls and assumed British rescuers had arrived.

They hadn't and nine hours later a French fisherman found the dead floating in the water. Only two people survived and three bodies are missing.

Passengers first phoned the French coastguard at 1.51am, call logs uncovered by French lawyers suing the authorities for manslaughter reveal.

At 3am the vessel capsized but in the interim two hours no efforts had been made to rescue those on board, with the French instead telling them to dial 999.

The British coastguard informed the French authorities it had made unsuccessful attempts to locate the vessel and in an email at 2.30am said a call had been made but a French dialling tone revealed the boat was in French waters.

Read more: The people who laughed at the Channel tragedy

Harrowing calls

In a 14-minute call at 1.51am a man begs: "Please please ! We need help, if you please. Help us if you please”. At the end of the call he is told his location has been received and help will be sent.

At 2:06am, a telephone conversation between the English and French authorities indicated the position of the boat, which was then in French waters and 0.6 nautical miles from English waters.

At 2:10 am the boat again reported its location by WhatsApp. It is still in French waters.

A man wheels a gurney into a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France. Picture: PA
A man wheels a gurney into a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France. Picture: PA

At 2:33am a position is again sent by a passenger to the French authorities, who then reply to say to call 999 as they are in English waters.

At 2:45am a passenger contacted the French authorities and asked for assistance. The coastguard told him that the boat was in English waters and that they should contact 999.

The passengers call the French authorities fifteen times between 2.43am and 4.22am.

At 2:46am a passenger called the French authorities and asked for help and the call was cut off.

Around 3am the boat overturned.

At 3:31am a passenger called the French authorities, indicating that they were "in the water". The authorities replied "yes, but you are in English waters Sir".

At 3:44am a shipwrecked person contacted the French authorities again and called for help. The French authorities told him that they were in English waters and he should call 999. He said he could not call them and was told "they have already been informed. They are on their way". Eventually the call was cut off.

At 4:08am the English authorities called the French authorities to inform them they had received a distress call from a small boat but had "found nothing at this location". The French authorities thanked them for their call and informed them that their rescue vessel was already engaged in another operation.

At 4:09am a passenger contacted French authorities and asked for help. The rescuer replied that "we have to wait" and that a lifeboat would "arrive in a few minutes". It was the last call received and 25 minutes later the French closed the job.

Asylum seekers with two officials at Romney Marsh Submitted picture
Asylum seekers with two officials at Romney Marsh Submitted picture

There will be a hearing at the French magistrates' office in Paris on Friday, November 18. The British authorities are waiting on the outcome of an ongoing Marine Accident Investigation Branch investigation before any further inquiry takes place.

A vigil will be held to mark the anniversary of the tragedy at 6pm on November 24 outside Westminster Abbey in London.

Zana Mamand Mohammad, brother of one of the victims, said: “My teenage brother, one year after your disappearance, I have tried non-stop to find anything about you and I have knocked on every door. I still stare at my phone hoping for a message or call from you. I am doing my best to obtain justice for you and your friends.

"If you knew how we have passed this past year you would never have made that journey. Every day has been like a year. Our mother is destroyed as if she is not alive anymore. Our father is sallow and has aged in a way that you would never recognize him. Our sisters are constantly praying for your return, our brothers are just living with your memories. Where are you brother? Where did the waves take you? Please show yourself and take me out of this nightmare.”

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais said: “The vast majority of people in Calais are genuine refugees who have suffered unimaginable horrors and come here simply to ask for help. They shouldn’t be risking their lives to claim asylum in the UK, and that fact that they have no legal way to get here is to our government’s shame. The callousness and apathy of authorities that leave tortured families waiting over a year for answers is scandalous. We must urgently know what lessons should be learned from this incident before more people die.”

Weyman Bennet, co-convener of Stand Up To Racism, added: "The vast majority of people will be absolutely horrified to hear the harrowing, hour by hour minute by minute account of what happened in the last hours of 32 people's lives. It was the cold, dead hand of the French and British authorities who left those poor people to perish in the Channel."

Wilf Sullivan, Race Equality Officer at the TUC, added: "A year ago, 32 mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers died in the English Channel despite pleas for help to the UK and French authorities. Despite this tragedy the government has doubled down on closing legal routes into our country for those fleeing war and oppression."

The Home Office says it "cannot have a repeat of the devastating event".

A government spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with the families of all of those who lost their lives in the tragic incident last November.

“All of the operational teams involved stand ready to respond 365 days a year and work tirelessly to save every person they possibly can.

“We cannot have a repeat of this devastating event and we are working tirelessly with our international partners to disrupt the people smuggling gangs behind these dangerous crossings who are putting lives at risk with every journey they arrange.”

The call logs are published on the day Suella Braverman signed an extension of a deal with France to police beaches in a bid to stop small boats crossing the world's busiest shipping lane.

This year 40,000 have risked the perilous journey, the highest number on record by 12,000.

The incident last November was the biggest loss of life in the Channel for 30 years.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More