The French authorities auctioned off at least seven confiscated small boats on the very day 27 migrants drowned in the Channel.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the vessels, including one almost identical to the dinghy that sank near Calais, were sold online last Wednesday for as little as €160 (£135).
Critics questioned the morality of selling the longboats, which are of little use to fishermen or yachtsmen, and fear they will simply end up back in the hands of ruthless people-traffickers.
The French authorities auctioned off at least seven confiscated small boats on the very day 27 migrants drowned in the Channel. Pictured dinghy for illustrative purposes only
The online auction of 15 inflatable dinghies and 50 outboard engines recovered at sea by lifeboats, coastguards or the French Navy was approved by France’s Maritime Affairs department.
A sale page shows that seven craft between seven and nine metres in length were sold for between €160 and €320 each. The engines fetched between €150 and €600.
Six longboats were black but the seventh – Lot 168 on the online site Interencheres – was grey and similar to the flimsy craft that deflated and sank on Wednesday.
The shoddy construction raised fears that the the boats had been built for the people-smugglers by DIY cowboys in secret factories in France, Belgium or Germany.
The site holding the auction accepts payments in cash for items selling below €1,000, with buyers asked to collect purchases from a warehouse at Bourbourg on the coast between Calais and Dunkirk.
At least 27 migrants have drowned in the Channel attempting to cross from France to the UK, just hours after a different group of 40 migrants were pictured launching dinghies from the French coast watched by police. Pictured dinghy for illustrative purposes only
One Breton boat-owner said: ‘I know the maritime world and this type of inflatable boat, nine metres long and with a flexible floor, is not of the kind used by pleasure craft owners.
‘Who are the buyers of this type of craft? Who is selling them? What is there to stop them being sold to people-smugglers?’
A spokeswoman for the sale organisers said no one from the auctioneer Thierry May was available for comment. She referred callers to the Maritime Prefecture in Cherbourg, which authorised the auction.