A man and a woman drowned on Wednesday after a small boat carrying around 60 migrants trying to reach Britain sank just after leaving France, authorities have said.
Guirec Le Bras, a Boulogne-sur-Mer prosecutor, said the boat was among several to leave a beach near the French port on Wednesday morning despite the presence of gendarme patrols.
It capsized off the beaches of Neufchatel-Hardelot and Equihen-Plage at around 1.30pm local time. The two people who died were both aged around 30, but it was not known where they came from.
A third person was rescued from the sea and flown to hospital, while the others on the boat were brought back to land, some suffering from hypothermia, rescuers said.
The deaths came almost two years to the day after 27 people died in one of the worst Channel migrant disasters.
That led to reports that French and UK coastguards had passed the buck over who was responsible for monitoring and rescuing migrants stricken near the dividing line between the two country’s territorial waters.
An HM Coastguard spokesman said on Wednesday: “HM Coastguard is currently working with the French Coastguard, who are coordinating the response to an incident involving a small boat in the French search and rescue region, working with Border Force and other partners.
“The Coastguard helicopter and the RNLI are assisting in the response. HM Coastguard will continue to work with partners to respond to those in distress around the seas and coastal areas of the UK.”
Mr Le Bras said a manslaughter investigation had started.
Olivier Ternisien, the head of the Osmose 62 group, which helps migrants in the Boulogne region, said people trying to get to Britain were taking bigger risks with the deteriorating weather.
Mr Ternisien’s group and other organisations have also said the increased presence of security forces encouraged migrants to pursue ever more hazardous crossings.
On Tuesday, a general in charge of 130 gendarmes patrolling the Calais coast told The Telegraph that 30 per cent fewer migrants had made it to the UK so far this year compared to 2022. General Frantz Tavart’s unit includes 90 reservists paid for by the UK.
A leaked investigation found that France had failed to tell Britain that the boat was sinking and ignored a rescue offer from a passing tanker.
French authorities have said boats are increasingly overloaded, with the average number of about 53 people almost double that of two years ago.
According to British authorities, more than 27,200 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year.