Coastguard

Call logs reveal French and UK coastguards to blame as 32 people drowned with French rescue operation shut down nine hours before bodies found

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

Screams could be heard in the background as the asylum seekers aboard the crashed dinghy spoke to the French coastguard, but were told to phone 999 instead as they were believed to be in English waters.

The dinghy sunk off Calais Photo: Local lifeboat crew

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

French authorities cut off a call, incorrectly told the victims that a lifeboat was on the way, and ended the operation at 4:34 a.m. because they received no more calls and assumed that the British rescuers had arrived.

They had not, and nine hours later a French fisherman found the dead floating in the water. Only two people survived and three bodies are missing.

The passengers first phoned the French coastguard at 1.51am, call logs uncovered by French lawyers suing authorities for manslaughter show.

At 3 a.m. the ship capsized, but in the two-hour interval no effort was made to rescue those on board, with the French instead telling them to dial 999.

The UK Coastguard informed the French authorities that they had tried unsuccessfully to locate the vessel and, in an email at 2.30am, said a call had been made, but a French dial tone revealed that the boat was in French waters.

Read more: People who laughed at the Channel tragedy

Heartbreaking calls

During a 14-minute call at 1:51 a.m., a man begs, “Please, please! We need help, please. Help us please please”. At the end of the call, he is told that his position has been received and help will be dispatched.

At 2:06 a.m., 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 02:10, the boat again reported its position by WhatsApp. It is still in French waters.

A man rolls a stretcher through a warehouse in the port of Calais, France.  Photo: PA
A man rolls a stretcher through a warehouse in the port of Calais, France. Photo: PA

At 2.33 a.m. a position was again transmitted by a passenger to the French authorities, who then responded by saying to call 999 as they were in English waters.

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

The passengers called the French authorities fifteen times between 2:43 a.m. and 4:22 a.m.

At 02:46 a passenger called the French authorities and asked for help and the call was cut off.

Around 3 a.m., the boat overturned.

At 03:31 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 3:44 a.m., a castaway contacted the French authorities again and called for help. The French authorities told him they were in English waters and that he should call 999. He said he could not call them and was told “they have already been informed. They are on their way “. Finally, the call was cut off.

At 4:08 a.m., the English authorities called the French authorities to inform them that they had received a distress call from a small boat but that they had “found nothing there”. The French authorities thank them for their call and inform them that their rescue ship is already engaged in another operation.

At 4:09 a.m., a passenger contacted the French authorities and requested assistance. The lifeguard 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 Photo submitted
Asylum seekers with two officials at Romney Marsh Photo submitted

A hearing will take place at the office of the French magistrates in Paris on Friday 18 November. UK authorities are awaiting the outcome of an ongoing investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch before any further investigation.

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

Zana Mamand Mohammad, brother of one of the victims, said: “My teenage brother, a year after you disappeared, I tried nonstop to find out anything about you and knocked on every door. I’m still looking at my phone hoping for a message or a call from you. I’m doing my best to get justice for you and your friends.

“If you knew how we spent the last year, you would never have made this trip. Every day has been like a year. Our mother is destroyed as if she were no longer alive. Our father is pale and has aged in a way that “You would never recognize it. Our sisters constantly pray for your return, our brothers just live with your memories. Where are you my brother? Where have the waves taken you? Please show up and get 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 risk their lives to seek asylum in the UK, and the fact that they have no legal way to get here is to our government’s shame. The insensitivity and apathy of the authorities who leave the tortured families waiting for more than a year for answers is outrageous. We urgently need to know what lessons need to be learned from this incident before more people die.

Weyman Bennet, co-organizer 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 has happened over the past hours in the life of 32 people. It was the cold, dead hand of the French and British authorities that let these poor people perish in the English Channel.”

Wilf Sullivan, Racial Equality Officer at the TUC, added: “A year ago 32 mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers died in the English Channel despite calls for help from the British and French authorities. Despite this tragedy, the government has doubled down on its efforts closing legal routes to 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 hearts go out to the families of all those who lost their lives in the tragic incident last November.

“All the operational teams involved are ready to intervene 365 days a year and are working tirelessly to save everyone possible.

“We cannot have a repeat of this devastating event and we are working tirelessly with our international partners to disrupt the smuggling gangs behind these dangerous crossing points who put lives at risk with every trip they organise.”

The call logs are released on the day Suella Braverman signed an extension to an agreement with France to monitor beaches in a bid to prevent small boats from crossing the world’s busiest shipping lane.

This year, 40,000 people risked the perilous journey, the highest number on record at 12,000.

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