French minister's haunting words after 31 bodies were discovered floating in ...

French minister's haunting words after 31 bodies were discovered floating in ...
French minister's haunting words after 31 bodies were discovered floating in ...

The doomed dinghy crammed with dozens of migrants was little more than a children's paddling pool, a French minister said last night.

The tragic group who cast themselves off from the French shoreline had entrusted their lives to a drifting death-trap.

At lunchtime yesterday, their 'very frail' craft bobbing empty on a calm stretch of water was the first sign of the horror. 

Then French fishermen saw the stomach-churning sight of its passengers floating lifeless nearby. A Mayday call went out immediately.

A Channel uncharacteristically without big waves had tempted more migrants than usual to try the perilous crossing.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin described the dinghy that capsized yesterday as 'very frail'. Pictured: Societe Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer boat carrying bodies of migrants

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin described the dinghy that capsized yesterday as 'very frail'. Pictured: Societe Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer boat carrying bodies of migrants

Callous smugglers also whipped up trade by warning of bad weather on its way, playing on the fact the window for crossing was set to close for the next few days.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin described the dinghy as 'very frail' and said it was 'like a pool you blow up in your garden'. Fatally overloaded, it ran into trouble not long into its journey.

With Calais still agonisingly within sight, its occupants – including at least five women and a girl – were plunged into bitterly cold water.

Terror and panic would have seized the families. Without specialist protective clothing, the shock of icy temperatures would have been enough to see them drown within minutes.

For the French fishermen who discovered the tragedy, it was a 'desperate' sight, according to a British skipper who overheard the operation unfolding on his boat's radio. 

Matt Cocker, of Dover, said: 'The scenes must have been desperate. Awful. Picking bodies out of the water for anyone is the end of things and you don't want to be doing it.'

Fishermen saw the stomach-churning sight of passengers floating lifeless near. A Mayday call went out immediately. Pictured: Firefighter trucks arriving at Calais harbour on Wednesday

Fishermen saw the stomach-churning sight of passengers floating lifeless near. A Mayday call went out immediately. Pictured: Firefighter trucks arriving at Calais harbour on Wednesday

He said his French counterparts alerted their coastguard who raised the alarm 'at around 1pm, asking for assistance in the rescue of a boat with around 15 on board and more in the water in the north-east shipping lane, seven miles off Calais'.

Mr Cocker said: 'There were around 15 to 20 big French commercial fishing vessels off Calais at the time, but they didn't respond. There seemed to be little by way of a rescue operation from the French.'

Vessels from HM Coastguard at Dover, along with the Border Force's ship BF Hurricane, responded to the Mayday and arrived within around 45 minutes.

Three helicopters – from the UK, France and Belgium - were sent to

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