Dozens of people were found dead on Wednesday in the English Channel — the waters between France and the UK — after their inflatable dinghy capsized, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
A local official said it was the worst accident in the English Channel involving migrants on record.
“This is no doubt the worst accident involving migrants trying to make it to Britain,” Franck Dhersin, mayor of the French district of Teteghem and vice president of transport for the northern France region told Reuters news agency.
Earlier, Dhersin had said 24 corpses had been recovered and 26 people were found alive. Local news channel BFM earlier reported that at least 27 people had died in the incident.
The incident ocurred near the French coastal cities of Calais and Dunkirk.
A rescue operation was still underway, after local fishermen spotted the an empty small dinghy and with bodies on the water.
Two helicopters and three police or rescue boats were at the scene, local authorities said.
French Prime Minister Gerard Darmarin said he would travel to the scene. “We cannot say enough about the criminal nature of the smugglers who organize these crossings,” Darmarin wrote in a tweet.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would chair an emergency meeting after hearing news of the incident.
The English Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The currents on the water are strong, which makes the seemingly short voyage rather dangerous.
jcg/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP)