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Channel boat victims may have tried to contact UK authorities, Home Office says

People on-board a boat which sunk in the English Channel last week may have called UK authorities for help when they realised their inflatable dinghy was deflating, a Home Office official has acknowledged.

At least 27 lives were lost when the flimsy boat began taking on water during the treacherous crossing from France to England.

Survivors of the tragedy have claimed this week they attempted to contact UK authorities to alert them to the fact the boat was in danger.

Questioned about the incident on Wednesday by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Daniel O'Mahoney, the Home Office's clandestine Channel threat commander, said there were “multiple migrant boats” in the water at the time and the coastguard responded to “every single one of them”.

Chair of the committee, Harriet Harman, repeatedly asked for confirmation on whether those on the boat had called the UK authorities for help as it got into difficulty and, if so, what the response had been.

Mr O'Mahoney replied: “I can't tell you with any certainty whether we definitely received a call from that boat or not... if the people from that boat had called the UK authorities, I can tell you that we definitely responded to that call.”

Describing how the deadly incident unfolded, he said: “The French authorities alerted us to the presence of that boat, which had been damaged and there were people in the water, at 1258.

”At which point it was well within French territorial waters in the French search and rescue zone. We responded immediately to that, the coastguard sent a helicopter, we made all of our... boats available.“

Mohammed Shekha, from northern Iraq, described how people on board the overcrowded dinghy “started falling into the water” after the boat began to deflate and stopped moving.

In an interview with Kurdish state broadcaster Rudaw, 21-year-old Mr Shekha was reported to have said: “We ... called French police and they told us to send a live location.

“So we sent them the location, but they said ‘you are in British territory, we cannot do anything’. We then called the British, but they said ‘no, call the French’.”

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesperson said: “HM Coastguard is committed to safeguarding life around the seas and coastal areas of this country.

“On Wednesday 24th November, HM Coastguard received over 90 alerts, including 999 emergency calls, from the English Channel, and we responded to all of them.

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

“On that occasion, we sent HM Coastguard’s helicopter from Lydd to support the search and rescue effort and the RNLI lifeboat from Ramsgate also participated in the search.”