Fishermen pulled 31 people from English Channel after migrant boat capsized

  • Fishing boat owner speaks about migrant rescue mission

A group of fishermen pulled 31 people alive from the freezing waters of the English Channel after a migrant boat capsized.

Four people died and 43 others were rescued during the mission, which also involved the Royal Navy, French navy, Coastguard and RNLI lifeboats.

Ben Squire owns Plymouth-based Oceanic Drifter Fishing. It was the team on board one of his scallop boats who were first on the scene.

"The skipper called me to tell me he was involved in a serious incident,” he told ITV News West Country.

“They were fishing mid-Channel, halfway between England and France, and a rigid inflatable boat with people on board, migrants, was crossing and was sinking very, very near to where he was fishing."

  • Footage shows panicked people being hauled onto fishing vessel (credit: Oceanic Drifter Fishing)

This video contains distressing images

He added: “It looks to be that the bottom of the rigid inflatable boat with the migrants on had fallen away - so you had all these people in the water, in cold conditions, they were still holding onto the boat, obviously cold in the water."

He described it as a "horrific" incident, adding: “We’re talking about human beings and people’s lives, and lives have been lost today, but I’m really glad that we managed to save 31. The heroes are the skipper and the crew of our boat today.

“They got them aboard, there were 31 of them which is a lot of people, obviously soaking wet, freezing cold, panicking, really scared.

"They got them in the hot shower, warmed them up, the crews got their own clothes on them, fed them with their food and the Arcturus then went into Dover alongside and got them off safely."

A Government spokesman said investigations are ongoing into the incident.

He added: “This is a truly tragic incident. Our thoughts are with the friends and families of all those who have lost their lives today.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has expressed his “sorrow” at the “capsizing of a small boat” in the Channel, telling MPs there had been a “tragic loss of human life”.

In the Commons, Mr Sunak said: “I’m sure the whole house will share my sorrow at the capsizing of a small boat in the Channel in the early hours of this morning, and the tragic loss of human life.

“Our hearts go out to all those affected and our tributes to those involved in the extensive rescue operation.”