A manslaughter lawsuit has been filed against the British Coast Guard by a humanitarian group for allegedly failing to help a boat that capsized in the English Channel, killing 27 people.
The lawsuit filed in Paris on Friday by Utopia 56 also accuses two French authorities: the maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea and the Regional Operational Centre for Surveillance and Rescue of Gris-Nez in the Pas-de-Calais.
Lawyers for the French non-profit claim that as the boat was sinking ‘the refugees sought to contact British and French rescue services, who passed the buck.’
Only two people of the 29 aboard the vessel on November 24 survived in what is believed to be the greatest loss of life from a single migrant crossing on the Channel. The youngest victim was just seven years old.
The flimsy and dangerous dinghy that sank off Calais, killing 27 people, on November 24
Smugglers threatened to shoot migrants, including bride-to-be Mariam Nouri Dargalayi (pictured with fiance), unless they boarded the doomed dinghy that went down in Channel
Twana Muhammad (pictured), 18, an Iraqi-Kurd student who is believed to have died in the tragedy
The family of 27-year-old Deniz Ahmed Mohammed (left) said he left them a final voicemail saying ‘just pray for us’, while Riaz Mohammed, 12, (right) is also feared to be among dead
The deaths sparked a diplomatic row between Britain and France amid record numbers of migrant crossings – tripling this year.
Emmanuel Daoud, the lawyer representing Utopia 56, told The Guardian: ‘The victims and their families are owed truth and transparency.
‘We know that as their boat was sinking, the exiles and refugees sought to contact British and French rescue services, who passed the buck.
‘They did not come to the aid of people who were in distress, and from that moment we consider that the question of responsibility – in the criminal sense of the term – has arisen.’
The only two survivors of last month’s disaster told Kurdish media that the migrants on the boat made distress calls that were ignored as their canoe deflated and their engine broke.
They claim the British said the boat was in French waters, and the French the reverse.
These accounts were confirmed by victim family members, who were in telephone contact during the attempted crossing.
The maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea was not immediately available for comment Monday.
In London, proceedings have also formally been launched by families of victims from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Earlier this month, 26 victims were formally identified, including seven women, a teenager and a 7-year-old girl. The identity of one migrant remains unknown.
Investigators were able to confirm the identity of 16 Iraqi Kurds, including four women, a 16-year-old teenager and a 7-year-old girl.
The victims also included an Iranian Kurd, three Ethiopians including two women, a Somali woman, four Afghan men and an Egyptian man, the statement said. The adults ranged in age from 19 to 46.
Shakar Ali, 25, (left) and Harem Pirot, 23, (right) who grew up as neighbours in Iraq and set off together to find a new life in the UK are believed to have been on board the dinghy
Hadya Rzgar, 22, Mubin, 16, Hasta 7, with their mother Kazhal Rzgar (right), the Kurdish family, who lived in Grande-Synth camp in Dunkirk, are missing and feared dead are, they are thought to be among at least 27 migrants who died in last week’s Channel tragedy
The boat set off at around 10pm on November 23 and sailed for more than three hours before deflating off the coast of Calais.
The bodies of the dead were discovered by a French fisherman more than 12 hours later a few miles from the coast in French waters.
The incident worsened tensions between London and Paris, which have been simmering in recent months over a range of disputes including Channel crossings and post-Brexit fishing rights.
Britain has accused France of failing to stop migrants illegally crossing, despite promising to pay Paris £54 million in installments to increase beach patrols along its northern coastline.
So far this month, 1,327 migrants have been detained by UK Border Force. This compares with 211 in December 2020.
So far this month, 1,327 migrants have been detained by UK Border Force. This compares with 211 in December 2020. Overall, 27,938 irregular migrants have been detained in 2021. The crossings have tripled this year compared to 2020.
Overall, 27,938 irregular migrants have been detained in 2021. The crossings have tripled this year compared to 2020.
A spokesperson for HM Coastguard said of the legal action launched in France: ‘It is not appropriate for us to comment on the specifics of this legal action.
‘On 24 November, Her Majesty’s Coastguard received over 90 alerts from the English Channel area including 999 emergency calls.
‘Every call was answered, assessed and acted upon, including the deployment of search and rescue resources where appropriate. We always have and always will respond to anyone in distress, as we did that day.’