The UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) has just published a report into the sinking of a small inflatable boat on 24th of November 2021 in which there were only 2 survivors.
The inflatable was carrying possibly 33 people and became engulfed in water when in the Dover Strait. Four bodies have never been recovered and 27 people were killed although the actual number of those killed and lost is not known. The 2 survivors were located in French waters.
Desperation drives people to make that treacherous crossing from France to England – even more so when the attempts take place in winter.
The MIAB investigation was not granted access to any information held by French authorities and the report deals with the UK’s emergency response.
The report concludes that the inflatable boat was wholly unsuitable and ill-equipped for the crossing attempt and the occupants’ only method of raising the alarm was via mobile phone. The effectiveness of the UK’s search and rescue response was hampered due to poor visibility and the lack of dedicated aerial surveillance of the Dover Strait
The UK Government has ordered an inquiry to be held into the mass drowning. The people who died included a pregnant woman and three children.
Commenting on the accident report Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, Andrew Moll OBE, said:
“This was a tragic accident in which many lives were lost. Our investigation has closely examined the events on the night to understand, as best we can, what went wrong so lessons can be learned to ensure a dreadful night like this is not repeated.
“The events of 24 November 2021 were complex with multiple inflatable boats that were unsuitable and ill-equipped for the journey attempting to cross the Dover Strait to England. The occupants were not trained mariners and their only means of calling for help was by mobile phone.
“Many boats made multiple distress calls and without dedicated aerial surveillance over the strait it was extremely challenging for the coastguard to understand how many boats were attempting the crossing, their locations and their actual levels of distress.
“During the early hours of the morning an inflatable boat with around 33 people on board became flooded and partially sank so its occupants entered the water. Although there was an immediate search and rescue response it took time for the first rescue craft to arrive on scene where, despite poor visibility, a number of migrant boats were found.
“In spite of the best efforts of those involved, as the pace of dealing with located migrant boats increased the plight of the stricken craft became masked and, sadly, the victims were not found until spotted by a passing fishing vessel later that day.
“In November 2021, the UK’s response to the migrant crisis was still evolving and although the need for enhancements had been identified remedial action was still in hand. The report acknowledges that significant changes have been made since the accident.
“However, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Border Force are recommended to develop procedures to ensure effective surveillance of the Dover Strait is possible when aviation assets are unavailable.
“A recommendation is also made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to work with French authorities to improve the transfer of information between UK and French coastguard agencies during migrant crossing events.”
Announcing the independent, non-statutory inquiry the UK Government’s Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, said:
“I am grateful to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch for their report examining this tragic incident, and the government will carefully consider its findings and recommendations. As the report recognises, the operational picture in the Channel has changed significantly since 24 November 2021, and I know that HM Coastguard continuously seeks to learn lessons and improve.
“Every day, hundreds of courageous responders from HM Coastguard and other UK agencies, including volunteers, stand ready to respond around the clock to every search and rescue operation involving small boats in the Channel. This incident reinforces the scale of the task they face.”
The inquiry will allow for a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances of the deaths. It is also hoped that it will give the families of the victims the clarity they deserve.
On the day of the tragedy, it is estimated that 1,227 people attempted to cross the Channel.