French authorities save migrants during attempt to cross into UK from Calais

The regional maritime service said in a statement to AFP that a helicopter, rescue ship and a maritime patrol aircraft had saved 11 migrants overnight whose ramshackle boat was in distress off the coast of the northern French town of Wimereux. “Substantial measures” were taken by French authorities to rescue the migrants, the maritime service stressed. Four of the migrants were rushed to hospital with hypothermia while the others were handed over to border police in the nearby border town of Calais, a major hub for migrants. 

The maritime service also said in its statement that a border patrol ship had discovered another boat carrying seven UK-bound migrants – six men and a woman – and alerted the British authorities who intercepted it near the British coast. 

All of the migrants were successfully rescued and are now safe and sound, a spokesman for the maritime service added. 

Strong currents, high traffic density, powerful winds and freezing temperatures usually make attempts to cross the English Channel from northern France incredibly difficult and dangerous.

But good weather conditions – namely a full moon and a calm sea – could explain Wednesday’s double crossing attempt.  

Groups of undocumented migrants attempted to reach British shores in flimsy boats a total of 13 times last year, maritime officials said, and 23 times in 2016. 

French authorities shut down a sprawling migrant tent camp in Calais – which lies on the de facto Franco-British border – in late 2016, but migrants hopeful to start afresh in the UK continue to cluster there.

Calais’ conservative mayor Natasha Bouchart sparked outrage last year after she announced a “zero tolerance” policy against migrants. 

But the mayor, who was accused by human rights groups of treating migrants with systematic brutality, has since been ordered by a local court to provide access to drinking water, toilets and showers to migrants and to allow charities to hand out free meals. 

Most migrants try to sneak into Britain by hiding inside UK-bound vehicles, or by hiding in lorries aboard ferries bound for Britain.