Deaths in the Channel: what maritime monitoring data tell us about the rescue

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Deaths in the Channel: what maritime monitoring data tell us about the rescue


Channel tragedy survivors claim French and UK authorities failed to respond to calls for help and disagreed over who was responsible – Sky News analyzed marine data to see how the emergency response took place.

Twenty-seven people died when the boat capsized and two survivors said the group had waited hours in the dark for help which eventually arrived too late.

Using the authorities’ version of events along with data from MarineTraffic.com and details of two survivors, we have pieced together the following timeline.

The group begins its journey Tuesday, November 23 on an inflatable boat – described as an “inflatable pool” by the French Ministry of the Interior – around 8 p.m. at Loon-Plage, between Dunkirk and Calais.

The boat quickly develops problems and begins to deflate, forcing people to pump air while others dump water, according to one of the survivors.

He said that between 2:15 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. on Wednesday, November 24, the engine also stopped working.

At 3 a.m., tracking data shows Britain and France have boats in the water between Calais and Dover. There is no indication at this point that they know there is a boat in trouble. The French Navy HMCS Valiant and Flamant are 12.9 km away. At the same time, a French fishing boat, the Saint Jacques II, was heading north. He would later become a key part of this story.

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At 3 a.m., the British ships HMC Valiant and Flamant of the French Navy were in the channel. Photo: MarineTraffic.com

Forty-five minutes later, the British Coast Guard helicopter from Lydd in Kent is also in the English Channel.

British authorities asked the group to send the position of the boat, said a survivor, but “we didn’t get a chance and all the cell phones went down the drain.”

Without precise location, a small boat in the darkness of the English Channel would have been very difficult to make out from the air.

There is a lag in what we know until daylight, when the French fishing boat Saint Jacques II spots the dinghy at 12:58 p.m. and reports bodies still in the sea.

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The French fishing boat Saint Jacques II spotted the dinghy. Photo: Yves Le Rousseau

Once the location had been identified, the French coast guard in Gris-Nez, 19 km west of Calais, reported the incident to the British coast guard.

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The French fishing boat Saint Jacques II was the first to spot the canoe. Photo: MarineTraffic.com

A larger image at the same time shows precisely where the rescue effort was about to focus.

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Wider image showing the search location. Photo: MarineTraffic.com

French Navy flamingo was about two miles (3.2 km) from the Saint Jacques II fishing boat.

French navy ship Flamant
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French navy ship Flamant. Labeled ‘French warship’. Photo: Yves Le Rousseau

The Border Force Hunter boat was in British territorial waters at the time and just over 4 miles from the French fishing vessel, according to MarineTraffic.com.

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The British Border Forces boat Hunter is in British territorial waters just over 4 miles from the Mayday location. Photo: MarineTraffic.com

At 1:06 p.m., the French coastguard in Griz-Nez launched a distress call and gave the contact details of the rescuers. The location is just inside French territorial waters.

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GPS location from the Mayday signal emitted by the French coastguard. Credit: Marineregions.org

A number of vessels are within five miles, including a British trawler and four French fishing boats.

Photo : MarineTraffic.com
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A number of boats are within 5 miles of the Mayday location – the circle indicates five miles from the GPS coordinates. Photo: MarineTraffic.com

Four minutes later, at 1:10 p.m., the British helicopter took off from Lydd, and at 1:20 p.m., the French coastguard boat Escaut took off from Dunkirk.

At 2:05 p.m., the French lifeboat Notre Dame Du Risban took off from Calais.

The rescue effort continues throughout the afternoon with several French boats and the British search and rescue helicopter.

The Ramsgate RNLI boat was launched after 7 p.m.

But after hours exposed to the cold of the English Channel, almost the whole group died.

Charles Devos, of the French lifeboat Notre Dame Du Risban, told Sky News he had removed many drowned bodies from the sea and the boat was reduced to a deflated piece of plastic.

Photo : Eric Patigny
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The French lifeboat Notre Dame Du Risban was launched from the port of Calais. Photo: Eric Patigny

“The boat was submerged. The sight of these people, drowned, then having to retrieve them… it was traumatic, ”he said.

Twenty-seven bodies have been found – many of their identities have yet to be revealed.

Among them was a young Kurdish woman, Baran Nouri Mohammedameen, who hoped to join her fiance in the UK.

The 24-year-old only told him she was about to board a boat at the last minute.

In a statement, the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency said on the day of the tragedy it had received more than 90 alerts in the Channel and responded to all of them.

“HM Coastguard does not routinely enter French waters unless asked to assist with a response from our search and rescue partners in France, as we were last week (November 24).

“On this occasion, we sent the HM Coast Guard helicopter from Lydd to support the search and rescue efforts and the RNLI rescue boat from Ramsgate also assisted in the search. “

The Home Office said the incident occurred in French waters and that the British Coast Guard provided assistance “as soon as it was requested” by the French.

France, meanwhile, said it had launched a comprehensive response, sending three boats to the scene, and that two helicopters were also involved – one from the French Navy and one from the UK.


The Data and Forensics team is a multi-purpose unit dedicated to delivering transparent Sky News journalism. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced digital analysis of datasets, satellite images, social media posts, and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling, we aim to better explain the world while showing how our journalism is done.

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