PARIS (AP) — At least four migrants, including two young children, died Tuesday when their boat capsized while they and other migrants tried to cross the English Channel to Britain, French authorities said.
Fifteen migrants have been saved so far and rescue and search operations were still under way, according to the regional administration for the Nord region. It said in a statement that the dead were a 5-year-old and 8-year-old child, and an adult woman and adult man, and stressed that the toll so far is provisional pending further searches in the area.
Such crossings have become increasingly common in recent years, but confirmed deaths are rare.
French authorities mobilized five vessels and a Belgian helicopter nearby to help with the rescue after the migrant boat was reported in distress off the coast of Dunkirk, according to the regional French maritime agency. It had said earlier that 18 people were rescued and were receiving treatment in hospitals in Calais and Dunkirk. The reason for the different numbers of rescued migrants was not explained.
An investigation into the cause of the sinking was opened by the Dunkirk prosecutor.
French maritime officials routinely rescue migrants trying to cross the Channel and warn against the risky crossing.
Despite joint police efforts on both sides of the Channel, migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to sneak into Britain, and the issue has long strained relations between the neighbors. Last year French authorities said at least four people died trying to use small vessels to cross the Channel, known for high winds, strong currents and heavy maritime traffic.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters this morning.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones at this time,” Patel said in a statement.
“We are in touch with our French counterparts who are leading on the response and have offered whatever support they need as they investigate this incident,” she added. “This tragic news highlights the dangers that come with crossing the Channel and I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people.”