Biggest Channel rescue in three years saw 80 people saved – including children

At least 10 children were onboard an ‘overloaded’ inflatable boat in the biggest rescue of people crossing the Channel in three years.

The RNLI came to the aid of up to 86 passengers who had been making the perilous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping straits, according to newly released information.

The rescue in the summer was the biggest single call-out in the dataset provided to and comes amid record numbers of people attempting to make the crossing.

Volunteer responders found between 10 and 16 children onboard the ‘overloaded’ rigid inflatable boat, according to the disclosure by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) this week.

The lightweight vessel was also carrying between 64 and 70 adults.

Supported by a rescue aircraft, coastguards intercepted the group in the middle of the Channel between Dungeness in Kent and the French fishing port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.

The rescuers from Dungeness Lifeboat Station were in an all-weather lifeboat at 8.40am on July 19, 2021, the response to a request by under the Freedom of Information Act shows.

The amount of people involved was the most for a single incident since November 2018.

Another 82 people in three separate boats were also rescued later on the day, according to the spreadsheet.

The movement across the Channel and the North Sea has continued into the winter, with more than 1,000 people intercepted after attempting to cross in the past four days.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 27,000 new arrivals have reached the UK after setting out in small boats from France.

An unprecedented tragedy struck last month when at least 27 people died after their boat capsized as they attempted the journey.

The BBC World Service said today it had identified 20 of those onboard, including Hadiya Hussein, 22, and her seven-year-old sister, Hasti.

French and British rescue organisations, including the UK Coastguard, are being sued by campaigners over the deaths. Humanitarian group Utopia 5 wants the legal action to ensure an investigation is launched to find those responsible for the tragedy.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: ‘We mustn’t forget that the men, women and children whose lives have been saved by the Coastguard have had to flee persecution, war and terror to reach safety in the UK through no fault of their own.

‘Without safe routes they have no choice but to take dangerous journeys so it’s vital the UK lives up to what Conservative Prime Ministers since Winston Churchill have always done and give them a fair hearing on UK soil.

‘Seeking to push them back, punish them or send them to another country is cruel, heartless and goes against our tradition of welcoming refugees in need of protection.’

In total, 9,062 people were rescued in the current year to July 26, the figures show. This was up on the entire year’s total for 2020, which was 8,334.

The Home Office has responded to the record Channel and North sea crossings by highlighting measures it is taking to clamp down on people-smuggling gangs.

A spokesperson said: ‘People should seek asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making these dangerous and unnecessary journeys. There are a range of safe and legal routes which provide a pathway for those in genuine need to reach the UK.

‘Our New Plan for Immigration will also overhaul the broken asylum system and reduce many of the historic pull factors by making it firmer on those coming here through parallel illegal routes and fairer for those using our safe asylum schemes.’

The RNLI is an independent charity that answers emergency calls from Her Majesty’s Coastguard. In turn, the Coastguard is part of the MCA.

A spokesperson for the Coastguard has said: HM Coastguard is committed to safeguarding life around the seas and coastal areas of this country.

‘We do not routinely enter French waters unless asked to assist with a search and rescue by the French, but we are often notified of vessels that are likely to enter UK waters.

‘If a vessel in UK waters needs search and rescue assistance, HM Coastguard will respond and rescue those in danger.

We are only concerned with the preservation of life, rescuing those in trouble and bringing them safely back to shore, where they will be handed over to the relevant partner emergency services or authorities.’

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