Eighteen migrants have been picked up from a boat off the English coast after the alarm was raised by their relatives in France. Two Britons on board are suspected of being people-smugglers.
The migrants' boat set off from the French port of Calais in the middle of the night on Saturday. The rigid-hulled inflatable boat (rhib) started taking in water about two hours later off the coast near the village of Dymchurch. Two British nationals were onboard together with the 18 migrants.
It appears that some of those on board telephoned relatives in Calais to say they were in trouble. The relatives then contacted the authorities and a rescue effort was launched. The Calais coastguard, SNSM, assisted in the rescue operation, according to its president Bernard Barron: "We were called for help, to search between Calais and Dover for a boat carrying about twenty people."
A helicopter from the Kent town of Lydd and two lifeboats with coastguard rescue teams from Dungeness and Folkestone began the search. A helicopter from France also joined in the search.
"The rhib with 19 people on board was located at 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) and the incident handed over to Border Force," it said in a statement.
The group were handed over to the UK Border Force and taken to Dover.
The English channel, "la Manche" or "sleeve" in French, is the world's busiest seaway with over 500 ships crossing each day.
Barron said "This confirms our fears: the smugglers are willing to take extreme measures, but the Channel is a real highway, presenting a great danger for this type of crossing," he said.
Accidents and collissions with wreckage led to the installation of the world's first radar-controlled Traffic Separation Scheme by the International Maritime Organization. It states that vessels travelling north must use the French side and those travelling south, the English side, with a separation zone between the two lanes. However, there are radar difficulties in monitoring areas near cliffs, such as those at Dover. At its narrowest point between Shakespeare Beach, Dover and Cap Gris Nez in France, the channel is 35 kilometers (20.6 miles) wide.
There are 6,000 migrants reported to be waiting at the Jungle camp in Calais, trying to reach England. Hundreds more are believed to be living rough along the French and Belgian coasts.
Four Iranian migrants made a rare, known attempt to reach Britain by boat from France in February. They were rescued after their vessel took on water and was close to capsizing. Rescuers were only alerted after one of the migrants was able to make his way back to the beach at Sangatte.
jm/rc (Reuters, AFP)