The doomed dinghy filled with dozens of migrants was little more than a children’s paddling pool, a French minister said last night.
The tragic group that broke away from the French coast had entrusted their life to a drifting death trap.
Yesterday, at lunchtime, their “very frail” boat floating empty on a body of calm water was the first sign of the horror.
Next, French fishermen saw the overwhelming sight of its lifeless passengers floating nearby. A Mayday call went out immediately.
A Channel unusually devoid of big waves had tempted more migrants than usual to attempt the perilous crossing.
The French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, described the boat which capsized yesterday as “very fragile”. In the photo: a boat of the National Society for Rescue at Sea carrying the bodies of migrants
The insensitive smugglers also boosted trade by warning of bad weather in its path, playing on the passage window to close for the next few days.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the dinghy “very fragile” and said it was “like a swimming pool that you blow up in your backyard”. Fatally overloaded, he encountered problems shortly after his trip.
With Calais still within sight, its occupants – including at least five women and a girl – were submerged in extremely cold water.
Terror and panic are said to have gripped the families. Without specialized protective clothing, the shock of freezing temperatures would have been enough to see them drown in a matter of minutes.
For the French fishermen who discovered the tragedy, it was a “desperate” sight, according to a British skipper who heard the operation unfolding on his boat’s radio.
Matt Cocker, from Dover, said: “The scenes must have been desperate. Awful. Getting bodies out of the water for anyone is the end of it and you don’t want to do it.
Fishermen saw the overwhelming sight of lifeless passengers floating nearby. A Mayday call went out immediately. Pictured: Fire trucks arriving at the port of Calais on Wednesday
He said his French counterparts alerted their coast guards who sounded the alarm “at around 1 p.m., asking for help rescuing a boat with around 15 on board and more in the water in the way. north-east navigation, seven miles off Calais “.
Mr Cocker said: “There were around 15-20 large French commercial fishing vessels off Calais at the time, but they did not respond. There appeared to be little rescue on the part of the ship. the French.
HM Coast Guard ships in Dover, as well as border forces vessel BF Hurricane, responded to the Mayday and arrived in about 45 minutes.
Three helicopters – from the UK, France and Belgium – were dispatched to help with the search.
The Home Secretary said 34 were on board the dinghy, but Franck Dhersin, a mayor near Dunkirk, had previously claimed more than 50 migrants were on board the ship when it capsized.
At least one passenger was still missing last night, but hopes of finding them alive had all but vanished.
Two people were pulled out of the water while still conscious and were being treated for hypothermia. The other 31 died before rescuers could reach them.
Mr Cocker said it was likely that the migrants’ dinghy was a “cheap and fragile” one that simply gave way.
He added that the sea was “absolutely flat, with probably around 30 migrant boats enjoying the best weather for days to cross.” But the traffickers put them in cheap plastic inflatables. They are not real boats. They overload them and they split and deflate and people end up in the water. They often do not have life jackets. They don’t stand a chance.
He added: “Often they don’t even have proper engines. The traffickers charge £ 3,000 to £ 5,000 each. [person] with 20 on board, so they’re really maximizing their profits.
Yesterday evening, in the dark, a sinister parade of boats entered the port of Calais carrying the corpses.
As French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured) looked grim after receiving the news, politicians and officials expressed shock and fury at a ‘impending accident’
About twenty rescue vehicles lined the Paul-Devot quay and a special motorized winch was brought to the site.
Human rights protesters held a silent vigil on the quayside, with a woman carrying a sign saying in French: “How many more dead do you need, Calais?”
While French President Emmanuel Macron looked grim after receiving the news, politicians and officials expressed shock and fury at a “impending accident”.
French MP Pierre-Henri Dumont said: “The Channel is becoming the new Mediterranean Sea, it’s like an open-air cemetery.
The chief of the port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, told British journalists: “Even if the sea does not look so rough, in the middle of the English Channel there are still a lot of waves.
‘It’s dangerous. We all have to try to find a solution because there will be more – they are trying everything to get to your country.
‘That’s why I’m very upset. I do not know what to do.
He added: “If there are 50 people in the boat and water gets into the boat, they will not be able to get rid of the water because the boat is very crowded.
“Then there is more and more water and then it happens. The sea is very, very cold – there is little chance of survival.
During a press conference at the quayside, Mr. Darmanin said: “Today is a terrible situation for France, Europe and humanity to see these people perish at sea”.
He criticized the Berlin government for failing to prevent smugglers from buying rubber dinghies in Germany and bringing them to northern France.
He said four people have been arrested so far in the wake of the tragedy.
Mr Darmanin told reporters that “1,500 people have been arrested since the beginning of January, and four of them today – we suspect they were directly linked to this particular crossing”.