Attempts to save the lives of 27 individuals who tragically drowned in the deadliest Channel disaster in over 40 years were hindered by inadequate coordination, scarcity of resources, and communication breakdowns between the United Kingdom and France, according to a report from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB). The report clarifies that an unsuccessful operation to reach a distressed dinghy on November 24, 2021 targeted the wrong vessel, resulting in the rescuing of 98 people from three other boats that evening, but not the 27 who met their untimely demise.
The 112-page report, released nearly two years after the fateful incident, identifies various obstacles that impeded the rescue operation. These include poor visibility, a lack of specific aircraft for aerial surveillance, and understaffing in the control room at Dover responsible for handling distress calls from small boats in jeopardy. The substantial number of vessels crossing that night exacerbated the confusion, with 99 incidents recorded by HM Coastguard on November 24, 2021, and 757 people attempting the perilous Channel crossing.
The report criticizes the people smugglers for choosing to employ an ill-equipped dinghy, labeling it as "wholly unsuitable and ill-equipped." Furthermore, it points out that distress calls sometimes did not accurately reflect the actual situation, complicating the rescuers' task of locating and identifying boats in distress. The report confirms that the sinking on November 24 claimed the lives of 33 individuals, including 13 women and eight children, with the exact time and location of the partial sinking remaining unknown. Two individuals survived the incident, while four others are still missing.
The bodies of the victims were retrieved on the same day in French waters. According to the International Organization for Migration, this incident is the deadliest recorded in the Channel since their data collection began in 2014. Despite the report shedding light on several shortcomings and challenges faced during the rescue operation, some critics argue that it fails to investigate potential systemic failings associated with the incident.
The report recommends that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Border Force establish procedures to ensure effective surveillance of the Dover strait even without aircraft availability. Additionally, it suggests enhancing information exchange between the British and French coastguard agencies during small boat crossings. While the report offers insights into the tragic event on November 24, 2021, concerns persist regarding the UK authorities' response to those in distress in the English Channel.