'Too late': ITV News witnesses migrant boat near miss with container ship after French escort dinghy to UK waters

ITV News witnessed this container ship narrowly miss the migrant boat on the left. Credit: ITV News

ITV News has witnessed the dangers of migrant crossings in the English Channel first hand as a container ship narrowly missed a dinghy full of people after the French handed it over to the UK Border Force.

ITV News saw a French patrol ship escort a dinghy with around 18 people onboard into UK waters, but before it could be led to safety by a British boat, the tiny dinghy came close to being hit by a huge container ship.

Radio transmissions heard by ITV News between UK Border Force and the captain on an Ineos shale gas vessel reveal the urgency of the situation.

ITV News Producer Harry Peet was on board another craft and witnessed the near-miss

"We left at Dover at 4.30am this morning and tracked a French vessel heading towards the UK border in the middle of the Channel.

"And then we saw that there was a migrant dinghy alongside it that it was escorting to the UK border. It was a large dinghy with some of the people onboard wearing life jackets, many not all.

"They then reached UK waters, where the French ship radioed it into the UK Border Force. The Border Force then came from Dover to take responsibility for the boat.

"In the middle of that handover (between the French and British), the dinghy was still heading towards Dover, but it was also right in the middle of the Channel shipping lane. There was a large container ship that was heading on direct course towards the dingy.

"The Border Force radioed in to tell the cargo ship that that was the case. The cargo ship was aware that there was a small object but it had no idea that there was a dinghy full of people. They managed to just miss it, was a near miss.

"The Border Force then arrived to pick up these people and took them back to Dover where they were processed by the border officials.

"Later, two more boats were intercepted by the Border Force and we saw them being taken into Dover Harbour. They had young children, and women on board."

The Border Force vessel is heard asking the captain: "Do you have visual on the migrant vessel on your starboard side, over?"

He replies: "Yes, that’s correct. I see some small object on the starboard side. I don’t know what it is."

The Border Force says: "That’s a migrant vessel with people in it so please take avoiding action, over."

In the background, the captain of the boat ITV News were on is heard saying "too late" as the dinghy disappears from view.

Current French rules mean that they can ask a boat if they need help but if those onboard refuse, the French boat can not engage. While they can, as it did on Wednesday, accompany the boat to ensure its safety, migrants remain hugely vulnerable to incidences such as the one witnessed by ITV News.

Migrant children being led away by authorities. Credit: ITV News

France and the UK have vowed to step up cooperation to tackle small boat crossings.

Boris Johnson spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone call ahead of this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall and “raised the need for redoubled efforts to deter migrants from attempting this perilous journey following the concerning rise in incidents over recent weeks”, Downing Street said.

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: “The Prime Minister and President talked about the issue of illegal migration across the English Channel. The Prime Minister noted ongoing cooperation to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel and raised the need for redoubled efforts to deter migrants from attempting this perilous journey following the concerning rise in incidents over recent weeks.”

A child is lifted out of the dingy after it arrives in Dover. Credit: ITV News

Migrants, such as those ITV News saw on Wednesday, usually arrive into Dover and Kent County Council have warned this week that the unaccompanied child migrant crisis threatens to overwhelm Kent’s Children’s Services once again.

Kent County Council has threatened legal action against the Home Secretary as the country's services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) have reached "breaking point".

Kent has nearly double the number of UASCs in care the government says is safe to have, the council said.

The authority said it may no longer be able to accept new unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) within days – a situation which came to pass in August 2020.

The French patrol ship Credit: ITV News

Charities have called on the Home Office to increase funding for children who arrive in the UK “completely alone and incredibly vulnerable”.

The number of people crossing the 21-mile stretch of water has almost doubled so far in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, with more than 3,100 having reached the English coast by the end of May.

Almost 600 migrants have been intercepted attempting to cross the Channel in three days this week.

Kent County Council leader Roger Gough said: “Kent residents deserve a resolution to this issue. We still do not have one. The wholly disproportionate strain on Kent’s children’s services continues to be overlooked.

“We must ensure that all UK local authorities with capacity share in the support of these children."

Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier this week said her French counterparts “absolutely must do more” to respond to migrant numbers and reduce the chances of people attempting to cross the Channel.

French officials say its priority is "safeguarding human life and the safety of navigation in the English Channel" but did not comment on the incident ITV News witnessed.

Local government secretary Robert Jenrick tells ITV News the UK government was working with French authorities to "disrupt this trade"

Local government secretary Robert Jenrick told ITV News that the home secretary was "very focused on this issue".

"She is conducting an urgent review into some of the scenes that we've seen in recent weeks.

"We are working very closely with Kent County Council, they're having to shoulder a significant burden of unaccompanied minors and others coming to the UK.

He said the UK government was working with French authorities to "disrupt this trade".

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Criminal gangs are putting profits before people’s lives through these dangerous and unnecessary crossings.

“More than 4,000 people have been prevented from making the dangerous crossing so far this year and we are cracking down on the despicable criminal gangs behind people smuggling.

"Inaction is not an option whilst people are dying.

"The Government is bringing legislation forward through our New Plan for Immigration which will break the business model of these heinous people smuggling networks and save lives.”