A report has revealed that efforts to rescue 27 individuals who perished in the most fatal Channel tragedy in over four decades were hindered by disarray, inadequate resources, and inadequate communication between the United Kingdom and France.
According to the report, an attempt to rescue a distressed dinghy on November 24, 2021 was unsuccessful due to identifying the wrong boat. While a Border Force cutter successfully rescued 98 individuals on three other boats that evening, the 27 people on the dinghy that tragically perished were not among them.
The MAIB, a division of the Department for Transport, released a 112-page report that does not assign fault. Instead, it highlights several issues that impeded the rescue efforts, such as limited visibility, the absence of a designated aircraft for aerial monitoring, and a shortage of personnel in the control room at Dover responsible for handling SOS calls from distressed small boats.
On the night of November 24, 2021, there was a significant increase in boat crossings, leading to chaos. HM Coastguard reported 99 incidents and 757 individuals crossing.
The report, released nearly 24 months after the large-scale drowning incident, strongly condemns the actions of the human traffickers who sent the small boat across the Channel in an inadequate and poorly-equipped vessel. It further alleges that individuals on board the boats often made false emergency calls, leading to rescuers arriving to a different situation than expected.
On Thursday, the transportation secretary, Mark Harper, declared an investigation into the collective drowning incident.
He stated that it would be autonomous and not legally binding, with the purpose of facilitating a thorough examination of the events leading to the deaths in the absence of a typical coroner’s inquest.
“On this day, we send our condolences to the families affected by the unfortunate incident of November 24, 2021,” he stated. “I am appreciative of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch for their report investigating this tragedy, and the government will thoroughly review its conclusions and suggestions.”
“As stated in the report, there have been notable changes in the operational situation in the Channel since November 24, 2021. I am aware that HM Coastguard is constantly striving to gain knowledge and enhance their practices.”
The Department for Transport will announce the chair and complete details of the investigation at a future time.
According to the report, one of the challenges faced by rescuers was distinguishing between different boats and receiving multiple distress calls from the same boat. This made it difficult for HM Coastguard to locate and identify individual boats, causing the genuine emergencies to be overshadowed by the increasing number of crossing events.
On November 24, a boat carrying 33 individuals, including 13 women and 8 children, sank. Among the women was a pregnant person. The specific time and place of the partial sinking is not known. Two people have been rescued and four are still unaccounted for.
The remains of the victims were found in French territory on the same day. According to the International Organization for Migration, this was the most fatal event in the English Channel since they began recording data in 2014.
The report states that a few of the immigrants were able to hold onto submerged parts of the boat while others drifted away.
Maria Thomas, a representative from the law firm Duncan Lewis, is working with the families of 18 victims and one of the two survivors. She stated that the report did not adequately investigate possible systemic failures during the incident.
Thomas stated that the report outlines several significant deficiencies regarding staffing, resources, and organization within the control room. These include inadequate surface assets, lack of oversight, and failure to accurately record and log calls, leading to confusion about which incidents have been addressed. The overall management of the search and rescue operation was described as chaotic by those coordinating it.
The chief executive of Care4Calais, Steve Smith, expressed disappointment that the only information provided by UK authorities on the largest loss of life in the English Channel in over 40 years is a report. He called it a scandal.
“This report does not provide answers to the fundamental question of why the UK authorities failed the desperate people onboard this boat who asked for help. It doesn’t explain why they were left at sea for more than 12 hours, undetected by both the UK and French authorities but found by a passing fishing boat the next day. Saying the rescue was hampered by ‘poor visibility’ or there was more than one boat in distress just doesn’t cut it – 31 lives have been lost, leaving behind grieving families and friends.”
The report suggests that the MCA and Border Force create protocols to maintain “effective monitoring” of the Dover strait in situations where aircraft are not available. Additionally, it recommends that the MCA collaborate with French authorities to establish methods for enhancing “the sharing of information” between British and French coastguard agencies during small boat crossings.
The chief inspector of marine accidents at the MAIB, Andrew Moll, described the incident as a tragic one that resulted in the loss of many lives. Our investigation thoroughly analyzed the events of that night in order to understand what went wrong and to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future.
On November 24, 2021, there were several challenging incidents where numerous inflatable boats, unfit and lacking proper equipment, attempted to cross the Dover Strait to reach England.
Rishi Sunak has made preventing small boats carrying asylum seekers from arriving in Britain one of his five pledges to voters. So far this year, 26,699 people have arrived via the Channel, according to the latest government figures – about a third less than the number at this point last year, which was 39,948.