An independent inquiry into a “Channel crossing tragedy’’ in which at least 27 people died after an inflatable migrant boat capsised has been launched.
The UK Transport Secretary made the announcement on Thursday.
An investigation into the circumstances of the deaths, which included a pregnant woman and three children, on Nov. 24, 2021 would take place.
It follows the publication of a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) which found the boat was “wholly unsuitable and ill-equipped.’’
The report also stated that the UK’s search and rescue response to the incident was hampered by the lack of a dedicated aircraft carrying out aerial surveillance.
The inquiry would consider what lessons can be learned from the events and, if appropriate, make recommendations to reduce the risk of a similar event occurring, the Department for Transport said.
The department’s secretary of state, Mark Harper, said.
“Today our thoughts are with the families of all those involved in the tragic events of Nov. 24, 2021.
“I am grateful to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch for their report examining this tragic incident, and the Government would 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.’’
He added: “The inquiry I have announced today will allow a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances of the deaths to take place, further to the MAIB’s report.
“This will give the families of the victims the clarity they deserve. I know that the Coastguard will engage fully and openly with it.’’
The exact time and location of the partial sinking is unknown.
It is the deadliest incident involving migrant crossings in the Channel on record.
The MAIB said the occupants of the dinghy were attempting to cross from France to England when the vessel became flooded and partially sank, causing them to enter the water.
At least 27 people lost their lives, two survived and four remain missing.
The victims’ bodies were recovered later that day in French waters.
The MAIB stated that the only way those onboard could raise the alarm was via mobile phone.
There were multiple boats attempting to cross the Dover Strait and each made several distress calls.
This made it “extremely challenging for HM Coastguard to locate and identify discrete boats,’’ the investigation found.
At the time of the accident, a number of HM Coastguard “capacity enhancements’’ had been identified but were not in place, the MAIB said.
The report recommended that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Border Force develop procedures to ensure effective surveillance of the Dover Strait is possible when aircraft are unavailable.
It also recommended that the MCA works with the French authorities to agree on ways of improving the transfer of information between the UK and French coastguard agencies during migrant crossings.
Andrew Moll, chief inspector of marine accidents, said: “This is a tragic accident in which many lives are 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 Nov. 24, 2021, were complex with multiple inflatable boats that were unsuitable and ill-equipped for the journey attempting to cross the Dover Strait to England.’’
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has set stopping small boats of asylum seekers from arriving in Britain as one of his five pledges to the electorate.
But since the year started, 26,699 migrants have arrived via the English Channel, according to the latest UK Government figures.
This is a third down on the equivalent figure at this point last year, which was 39,948.
The Illegal Migration Act brought into law the Government’s Rwanda policy of sending those arriving by small boats to the East African country.
Ministers were currently awaiting a Supreme Court judgment on whether the policy is lawful.