Rescuers attempting to save the lives of refugees drowning in the English Channel did not have enough dedicated aircraft carrying out aerial surveillance, an investigation has found.
They also need to improve communications with French agencies and improve non-aircraft surveillance capabilities, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch found.
The report, published on Thursday, was centred on a boat that sank while trying to cross the English Channel in November 2021, killing 27 of the migrants on board.
The English Channel – one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world – has become a popular route for traffickers trying to bring asylum seekers to the UK and the number of crossings has skyrocketed in the past five years.
The report painted a picture of chaos in the dark after rescue agencies received several distress calls from boats in the Channel.
A number of boats were attempting to cross the Dover Strait and each made several distress calls from mobile phones – the only communication method on board.
That made it “extremely challenging” for the British coastguard to locate and identify boats, the investigation found.
At the time of the accident, a number of coastguard “capacity enhancements” had been identified but were not in place, the report said.
The report recommended that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Border Force develop procedures to ensure “effective surveillance” of the Dover Strait is possible when aircraft are unavailable.
It also recommended that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency work with French authorities to agree on ways of improving “the transfer of information” between the UK and French coastguard agencies on migrant crossings.
Andrew Moll, chief inspector of marine accidents, said: “This was a tragic accident in which many lives were lost.
“Our investigation has closely examined the events on the night to understand, as best we can, what went wrong so lessons can be learnt to ensure a dreadful night like this is not repeated.
“The events of November 24, 2021, were complex, with multiple inflatable boats that were unsuitable and ill-equipped for the journey attempting to cross the Dover Strait to England.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has put stopping small boats from arriving in Britain as one of his five main priorities.
At least 27 people lost their lives, two survived and four remain missing. The victims included a pregnant woman and three children.
The exact time and location of the partial sinking – the deadliest incident involving migrant crossings in the Channel on record – is unknown.