Screams were heard in the background of phone calls as migrants repeatedly contacted French and British authorities to ask for help during the worst canal disaster in three decades.
Rescuers passed the buck or gave false assurances for at least two hours as the tragedy unfolded on November 24 last year, which left at least 27 men, women and children drowned. Five bodies are still missing.
Transcripts of the calls, released as part of the French inquiry into the tragedy, reveal how asylum seekers on a wrecked dinghy bound for Dover spoke to the French coastguard but were told to call 999 as they were believed to be in English waters .
The Protocols, published by France’s The world newspaper, point out that rescuers didn’t come to the rescue until the captain of a private boat reported bodies floating in the water — 12 hours after the first 911 call.
These are the calls that emerge from the logs:
1:51 a.m: A migrant calls French authorities saying 33 people on board a boat need help. Communication takes almost 14 minutes. He asks: “Please, please! … We need help, please. Please help us.” At the end of the call, the operator says she’s got his location and will send help.
2:06 a.m: Telephone conversation between English and French authorities shows position of boat now in French waters and 0.6 nautical miles from English waters.
2.10 a.m.: The boat is again reporting its location via WhatsApp, which it is still locating in French waters. The people on board continue to call the authorities.
2:33 a.m.: A migrant re-sends a position to French authorities, who reply to call 999 as they are in English waters.
2.45 a.m.: A passenger contacts the French authorities and asks for help. Screams can be heard in the background. The Coast Guard tells him the boat is in English waters and they should contact 999.
2:43-4:22: The migrants called the French authorities 15 times in vain.
2.46 a.m.: A passenger calls the French authorities asking for help, the call is cut off.
3 a.m.: The boat capsizes and all passengers are thrown into the water. Some begin to drown because of the waves. Over time, others resign themselves to letting go when they give in to the cold.
3:31 a.m.: One person calls French authorities and says they are literally “in the water”. The authorities reply, “Yes, but you are in English waters, sir.”
3.44 am: A shipwrecked person reports to the French authorities again and calls for help. The French say they are in English waters and to call 999. The migrant says he cannot call them and is told that “they have already been informed. You’re on your way.” Eventually, the call cuts off.
4.08 a.m.: English authorities call the French coastguard to say they have received a distress call from a small boat but have found nothing at the location. The French thank them for their call and say their rescue ship is already back in action.
4.09 a.m.: A passenger contacts the French authorities and asks for help. The rescuer replies that “we’ll have to wait” and that a lifeboat “will be here in a few minutes.”
E-mail exchanges between the French and British show that the boat arrived in English waters at 2:30 a.m. The British Coastguard says in another email that they contacted a passenger and that a French phone tone revealed the boat was in French waters.
4:34 am: French authorities are “closing the operation” as the emergency has passed, with calls for help having stopped and the British emergency services likely to intervene.
14 o’clock: Nine hours later, a French fisherman discovered bodies in the water and sounded the alarm. When the French Coast Guard finally arrives, they find only two survivors. They recover 27 bodies, including those of six women and a girl.
A vigil will be held outside Westminster Abbey in London on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the tragedy.
Weyman Bennett, co-host of the group Stand Up To Racism, said: “The vast majority of people will be absolutely horrified to hear the harrowing, hourly, to the minute account of what has happened in the last few hours of 32 lives.