'We're drowning': Five charged over boat disaster that killed 27

‘We’re drowning’…’Yes, but in English waters’: France charges five of their coastguard staff with failing to rescue migrants in disaster that killed 27 – as it emerges ‘FIFTEEN emergency calls were ignored’

  • The soldiers were charged with failing to rescue dozens of people on Thursday
  • The sinking and loss of 27 lives was the worst-such disaster in recent times 

Five military personnel were charged by French authorities on Thursday over the deaths of 27 people who drowned in the English Channel while attempting to travel to the UK in a dinghy in 2021. 

French prosecutors charged the soldiers over failing to come to the rescue of dozens of migrants, despite them making 15 emergency calls and begging French coastguards for assistance.

Many of those killed in the sinking were Iraqi Kurds aged between seven and 46, in what became the worst such disaster in recent times. Just two people survived, and seven women and three children were among the dead.

During a call for help, one person who was already in the freezing Channel water phoned the French coastguard, only to be told: ‘Yes – but you are in English waters.’ 

It was reported by French media that authorities had detained nine people on Tuesday, including several military personnel deployed as coastguards in northern France, as part of their probe into the tragedy.

The flimsy and dangerous dinghy that sank off Calais killing 27 people including seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children

The 27 people lost their lives when the small dinghy they were travelling in sank (stock image)

One source familiar with the matter said the five, who were charged after hours of questioning, included three women and two men on duty at the Channel rescue centre at the time.

They were charged with failing to assist persons in danger.

According to one transcript of a telephone conversation seen by AFP, a migrant told the French coastguard on the phone: ‘Please help! (…) I’m in the water!’

‘Yes – but you are in English waters,’ replied the coastguard.

‘No, not English waters! French waters! Please can you come quickly!’ the voice insisted, before the conversation was cut off.

The probe in France is focusing on allegations that French service personnel on duty in the north of the country failed to respond properly to the distress calls of those on board.

In legal documents French authorities are accused of ignoring calls made by the stricken migrants for help some 15 times.

In November, Le Monde newspaper published revelations based on documents contained in the French legal investigation, saying passengers first contacted France’s Channel rescue centre at 1:48 am on November 24 to say their vessel was deflating and its engine had stopped.

They sent their locations via WhatsApp around 15 minutes later.

‘We can only welcome the fact that things are progressing from a criminal point of view, that we are finally shedding light on this case and that the words of the victims and the relatives of the victims can finally be heard at a judicial level,’ said Flore Judet, spokesperson for Utopia 56, an association helping migrants.

Shortly after the tragedy one of the two survivors, Mohammed Shekha, 21, detailed a shocking series of desperate calls to French and British authorities and claimed both denied responsibility for the rescue.

He said: ‘We started moving after half an hour. Everything was perfect until early in the morning. It was still dark and water was coming into the small boat from the back. So a group of us tried to empty the water from the boat. That’s when we saw a big ship.’

The young shepherd, whose family live in northern Iraq, said some migrants wanted to swim to the ship.

The ship then disappeared and the right side of the boat began to lose air, he added.

Mubin (pictured at the back) was on board with his mother Kazhal Ahmed, 45, and two sisters Haida, 22, and Hasti, seven. They are all feared dead

At that point, a 16-year-old Iraqi boy called Mubin Hussein, who was on board with his mother and two sisters, made desperate phone calls for help.

Mubin was on board with his mother Kazhal Ahmed, 45, and two sisters Haida, 22, and Hasti, seven. They all died. 

After the frantic calls to authorities, the boat lost most of its air and stopped moving before the current pushed it back towards France.

Mr Shekha said: ‘That’s when people started falling into the water. So to rescue them we were all holding each other’s hands, all of us, the 33. This continued for a few hours until it became day.

‘The sun was out, but we couldn’t hold on any longer. The people just stopped holding hands and they all went into the water. They died.’

The young Kurd was finally rescued by the French coastguard after fishermen raised the alarm. 

France has already charged 10 suspected people-smugglers, mainly Afghans, over the tragedy. 

The deaths of the migrants ratcheted up tensions between Paris and London but people are still continuing to make the dangerous crossing.

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