Pregnant women, children among 27 dead in English Channel

CALAIS, FRANCE (AP) – Children and pregnant women were among at least 27 migrants who died when their small boat sank in an attempted crossing of the English Channel, a French government official said yesterday.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin also announced the arrest of a fifth suspected smuggler thought to have been involved in what was the deadliest migration tragedy to date on the dangerous sea lane.

In their immediate response to the sinking, French authorities initially gave slightly differing figures on the numbers of dead, from at least 27 to 31. The figure that Darmanin used yesterday morning on RTL radio was 27.

Darmanin said authorities are working to determine the nationalities of victims from the sinking on Wednesday. Two survivors were treated for hypothermia. One is Iraqi, the other Somali, Darmanin said.

“Pregnant women, children died,” he said, without detailing their numbers.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin answering the press in Calais, northern France. PHOTO: AP

The French prosecutors’ office tasked with investigating the sinking said the dead included 17 men, seven women and two boys and one girl thought to be teenagers.

Magistrates were investigating potential charges of homicide, unintentional wounding, assisting illegal migration and criminal conspiracy, the prosecutors’ office said.

Darmanin on Wednesday had already announced the arrest of four suspected smugglers on suspicion of being linked to the sunken boat.

He told RTL that a fifth suspected smuggler was picked up overnight.

The fifth suspect was driving a vehicle registered in Germany, Darmanin said. He said criminal groups in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain are behind people-smuggling networks. He called on those countries to cooperate better in the battle against smugglers, saying they don’t always respond fully to French judicial requests for information.

“Britain and France must work together. We must no longer be, in effect, the only ones able to fight the smugglers,” the minister said.

“The smugglers buy boats, Zodiacs, in Germany with cash,” he added. “The smuggler arrested overnight has German plates; he bought his Zodiacs in Germany.”