Inflatable migrant boat report published

Marine Accident Investigation Branch

November 9
00:01 2023

Today, we have published our accident investigation report on the loss of at least 27 lives when an inflatable boat, carrying around 33 people, became flooded and partially sank during an attempt to cross from France to the UK on 24 November 2021. There were 2 survivors and 4 people remain missing.

Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, Andrew MollOBE, said:

This was a tragic accident in which many lives were lost. Our investigation has closely examined the events on the night to understand, as best we can, what went wrong so lessons can be learned to ensure a dreadful night like this is not repeated.

The events of 24 November 2021 were complex with multiple inflatable boats that were unsuitable and ill-equipped for the journey attempting to cross the Dover Strait to England. The occupants were not trained mariners and their only means of calling for help was by mobile phone. Many boats made multiple distress calls and without dedicated aerial surveillance over the strait it was extremely challenging for the coastguard to understand how many boats were attempting the crossing, their locations and their actual levels of distress. During the early hours of the morning an inflatable boat with around 33 people on board became flooded and partially sank so its occupants entered the water. Although there was an immediate search and rescue response it took time for the first rescue craft to arrive on scene where, despite poor visibility, a number of migrant boats were found. In spite of the best efforts of those involved, as the pace of dealing with located migrant boats increased the plight of the stricken craft became masked and, sadly, the victims were not found until spotted by a passing fishing vessel later that day.

In November 2021, the UKs response to the migrant crisis was still evolving and although the need for enhancements had been identified remedial action was still in hand. The report acknowledges that significant changes have been made since the accident. However, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Border Force are recommended to develop procedures to ensure effective surveillance of the Dover Strait is possible when aviation assets are unavailable. A recommendation is also made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to work with French authorities to improve the transfer of information between UK and French coastguard agencies during migrant crossing events.

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