French prosecutors on Wednesday charged four people with involuntary manslaughter over the deaths of at least six migrants whose boat sank in the English Channel on the weekend, a judicial source told AFP.
The suspects, two Iraqis and two Sudanese, were detained shortly after the vessel carrying around 65 people capsized early Saturday, leaving six Afghans dead, the source said, confirming a report in French daily Le Monde.
They also face charges of criminal conspiracy for illegal immigration, with the Iraqis suspected of belonging to a human trafficking network.
Most of those on board were Afghans, along with some Sudanese and “a few minors”, French authorities said.
Investigators determined that an engine breakdown led to the vessel’s capsizing in the choppy waters of the busy shipping lane, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.
The boat was “torn apart at sea” and most of the passengers had no life jackets, it added.
A commercial vessel discovered the shipwreck and alerted authorities, with the French coast guard rescuing 38 people and the British 23.
The survivors in France have been interviewed, and a request for assistance was sent to British authorities to interview those on their side, the prosecutor’s office said.
When the capsizing vessel was spotted on Saturday, emergency services were immediately dispatched to the area, according to the French prosecutor’s office. A helicopter and maritime surveillance plane were also sent.
That mobilisation contrasts with a November 2021 tragedy when 27 migrants died.
French authorities were accused of failing to respond to around 15 calls for help, and seven soldiers were charged over the incident.
The November 2021 sinking sparked tension between Britain and France over who needs to do more to prevent such disasters.
French authorities have stepped up patrols and other deterrents after London agreed in March to send Paris hundreds of millions of euros annually toward the effort.
Yet risky attempts to cross the Channel persist, with a French maritime spokesperson sighting at least ten boats on Tuesday night.
An AFP photographer stationed on the English coast saw dozens of migrants arriving, including children and a pregnant woman.
More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Channel on small boats from France to southeast England since Britain began publicly recording the arrivals in 2018, official figures revealed last Friday.