Coastguard failed to answer SOS calls as 27 died in Channel tragedy
BRITISH rescue teams stopped searching for drowning migrants whose final distress calls went unanswered by the Coastguard, an official inquiry has revealed.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) disclosed a series of blunders in a shocking report into the 2021 disaster.
The 27 victims of the tragedy included a seven-year-old girl.
Migrants aboard the ‘entirely unsuitable’ 25ft dinghy made two calls to a UK Coastguard mobile which were not answered, the report revealed.
During the search and rescue operation a Border Force vessel, Valiant, located another migrant boat which was mistakenly thought to be the dinghy in distress, which had been codenamed ‘Charlie’ by the UK incident room.
Coastguard officials reached an ‘erroneous determination that migrant boat Charlie had been found’, the MAIB report said, and there was ‘no further mention’ of it. ‘The search for the specific sinking migrant boat Charlie appears to have ceased after recovery of the occupants of the first migrant boat by Valiant,’ it added.
The incident began with ‘mayday’ calls in the early hours of November 24, 2021, prompting searches by the cutter Valiant and a Coastguard helicopter.
The first mayday came at 12.26am. In a later distress call, a person was heard ‘screaming for help’. Mobile phone analysis indicated the stricken dinghy sank between 3.12am and 3.33am, the report added. The full scale of the tragedy only became clear when a French fishing vessel spotted bodies about ten hours later, at 1pm.
It was the worst disaster in the Channel for 30 years, claiming at least 27 lives. Among the victims were four members of an Iraqi family – seven-year- old Hasti Hussein, her 16-year-old brother Mubin, sister Hadiya, 22, and their mother Kazhal, 46.
The 102-page report by the MAIB said the Coastguard’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at Dover was using a standalone mobile phone which was not connected with the rest of its systems. The handset had been ‘introduced as a measure to allow direct communication with migrants via text and WhatsApp messages’.
A separate French report into the tragedy, published last year, accused its officials of ignoring 15 distress calls and of telling migrants to call British authorities instead.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: ‘The report highlights that the boats and equipment used in these types of crossings are entirely unsuitable and goes on to say that the organised crime groups who arrange these attempts put the occupants at high risk of coming to harm.
‘As there are still ongoing investigations, it would be inappropriate to comment further.’
Enver Solomon, of the Refugee Council charity, said: ‘These disturbing findings raise serious questions about why more was not done to avoid so many people tragically losing their lives.’