P&O and DFDS ferries sail on the English Channel
P&O and DFDS ferries sail on the English Channel, on August 12, 2023. Five French ships and a helicopter, as well as two British vessels, were involved in the rescue operation while some passengers were still missing, and about 50 migrants were rescued, some of them by the British vessels, the authorities said. Image Credit: AFP

London: Six people died and dozens were rescued when a boat carrying migrants capsized Saturday in the English Channel, according to French authorities.

The Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea reported about 50 people were rescued.

Initial reports indicated that six of those rescued were in critical condition. One individual later died after being transported by helicopter to a Calais hospital, and an update confirmed the deaths of five others who were ferried to shore by boat.

“This morning, a migrant boat capsized off Calais," French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on social media. "My thoughts are with the victims.”

The deaths come as Britain’s conservative ruling party has sought to stop crossings of small, often unseaworthy, boats with a variety of policies that have come under fire for failing to stem the flow of migrants.

French authorities noted a marked increase in attempted crossings from the coast since Thursday during the onset of milder weather. British authorities said 755 people crossed the channel in small boats Thursday, the highest daily number this year.

Small boat arrivals are down 15% from the number at this point last year. As of Thursday, 15,826 had been detected in the year to date, compared to 18,600 at this time last year.

Last year, five migrants died and four were reported missing while attempting to cross from the northern coast of France. In November 2021, a boat carrying migrants sank, resulting in the deaths of 27 individuals.

The search and rescue operation Saturday involved both British and French vessels, triggered by a report from a patrol boat about a migrant vessel in distress near Sangatte. Three French ships, a helicopter, and a plane canvassed the area and two British ships participated in the search.

Borne also mentioned that Sea Minister Hervé Berville is headed to the site to assist with the situation.

The incident is under investigation by the Boulogne prosecutor’s office.