27 believed drowned as dinghy capsizes in Channel migrants tragedy - arrests made
TWENTY seven people are believed to have drowned off the coast of Calais trying to reach the UK in a boat, in the biggest loss of life since the Channel migrants crisis began in 2018.
Gerald Darmanin, France's interior minister, said five women and a girl were among the victims.
Two people were saved from the water and four suspected people-smugglers have been arrested, he said.
They died after an inflatable dinghy capsized after setting out this afternoon (November 24).
He said the boat was "very frail" and more "like a pool you blow up in your garden."
A search and rescue mission involving a UK patrol boat, French lifeboat, and three helicopters continued into the evening.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the UK's emergency COBRA committee in response and held an urgent phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron.
He said he was "shocked, appalled and deeply saddened" and that human traffickers were "literally getting away with murder".
The tragedy came as it emerged 18 other people, suspected of involvement in an international gang that was smuggling people from France into the UK in small boats across the Channel , have been arrested.
Those held in the operation included nationals of Iraq, Pakistan, Romania and Vietnam, and they will all now be subject to French judicial proceedings.
The operation saw 18 people arrested by OCRIEST, the French border police unit targeting immigration crime with assistance of additional French border policing partners, in the Calais, Le Havre and Paris regions of France.
Over 100,000 euros were also seized in cash and bank accounts.
National Crime Agency (NCA) officers in the UK were involved in the operation.
An NCA spokesman said: "The organised crime group were involved in the supply of boats which would each be able to carry between 40 and 60 people.
"The network would then arrange departures from the shore of northern France, recruiting migrants in the various camps there.
"They would each be charged around six thousand euros for the journey to the UK, which some of those arrested would then seek to launder."
NCA intelligence and international network officers worked with colleagues in OCRIEST and other international partners to target and identify those who were arrested.
NCA Deputy Director Andrea Wilson said: “We look to target and disrupt organised crime groups involved in people smuggling at every step of the route.
“Much of this criminality lies outside the UK, so we have built up our intelligence sharing effort with law enforcement partners in France and beyond.
“This includes having NCA officers based in those countries, sharing intelligence and working side by side on joint investigations.
“This approach is bringing operational results in the form of arrests and prosecutions, as we have seen with this particular case.
“Much of this work is necessarily covert, but we know it is having an impact.
“We are continuing to look at ways to disrupt the supply of vessels to people smuggling OCGs, and target those who knowingly do so.
“Earlier this year we issued an alert to the UK maritime industry to raise awareness, and we are working with partners in the EU to do similar there.”
The NCA has a team of liaison officers based in France working on investigative activity with French partners both as part of Project INVIGOR, the UK’s organised immigration crime taskforce, but also on wider threats that require Anglo-French law enforcement co-operation.
This means NCA officers on the ground in France, not just exchanging intelligence but working with the French police to collaborate on both proactive and reactive investigations, including those with a particular focus on small boats threat.