20 rescued from boat in English Channel: coastguard

A search and rescue helicopter (AFP Photo/Andrew Yates)

London (AFP) - Twenty people, most of them migrants, were rescued by the British coastguard from the Channel on Sunday after their inflatable boat began to take on water.

The rhib (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) carrying 20 people "was located at 2.00am (0100 GMT) and the incident handed over to Border Force," it said in a statement.

Of those rescued, 18 were Albanian and two British, according to the BBC.

Thousands of people have been massed in northern France for months, trying to reach Britain where they believe they will have a better chance of finding employment, according to French and British charities.

Calais coastguard organisation SNSM assisted in the rescue operation, according to its president Bernard Barron.

"We were called for help... to search between Calais and Dover for a boat carrying about twenty people," he told AFP.

Helicopters from England and France took part in the search.

The passengers were taken to the nearby port of Dover to be interviewed by Border Force officers, the Home Office said.

"The castaways, who were migrants, called their families, who then alerted the authorities and rescue missions were triggered on both sides of the Channel," said Barron.

"This confirms our fears: the smugglers are willing to take extreme measures, but the Channel is a real highway, presenting a great danger for this type of crossing," he said.

The coastguard chief said that they had observed attempts to cross the Channel for several months, particularly in the Straits of Dover, by those "without the slightest notion of navigation and unaware of the real dangers."

- Dangerous journey -

High winds, strong currents, a high volume of traffic and low water temperatures all make the Channel a treacherous stretch of water.

Mary Lawes, councillor with the anti-mass migration UK Independence Party, accused the government of "not doing enough to control our coastline".

"This is very worrying, the good news is no-one appears to have been harmed," she said. "Something has to be done to protect these people from harm and our borders."

Some 17 suspected Albanian migrants were detained Tuesday after a boat arrived at Chichester Marina on the south coast.

Four Iranian migrants making a rare attempt to reach Britain by boat from France in February were rescued just in time after their vessel took on water and was close to capsizing.

Rescuers were only alerted after one of the migrants made it back to the beach at Sangatte in northern France before dawn.

Officials warned last month that migrants from the Jungle camp in Calais were stepping up attempts to reach Britain with summer on its way, with a sharp increase in migrant attempts to stow away in the back of lorries.

David Monk, leader of the Shepway Conservative local authority near Dover, said that boosted surveillance measures would identify most unauthorised crossing attempts.

"I am pretty sure our security is good. I cannot recall a previous incident but this should act as a warning to the authorities to be even more vigilant," he said.

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