Migrant who steered English Channel dinghy guilty of manslaughter after four drown

Asylum seeker Ibrahima Bah piloted 'unseaworthy' boat where four passengers drowned

Migrants were brought ashore from an RNLI lifeboat in Dover. PA
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A Senegalese migrant who piloted an overcrowded “unseaworthy” vessel across the English Channel has been found guilty of the manslaughter of four people who drowned on the trip.

The boat started sinking en route and rescuers were called to save the passengers, the court heard.

Ibrahima Bah was found guilty on four counts of manslaughter and one of facilitating illegal entry to the UK, after a retrial at Canterbury Crown Court.

The home-made, low-quality inflatable on which they sailed should have had no more than 20 people on board but it was packed with at least 43 people, the jury heard.

The majority of travellers paid thousands of euros to smugglers for a spot in the overcrowded vessel, hoping to cross the English Channel and reach the UK, prosecutor Duncan Atkinson KC said.

Bah, though, did not pay for his journey because he agreed to pilot the dingy on December 14 2022. As pilot, he owed his passengers a “duty of care”, Mt Atkinson added.

Mr Atkinson said Bah was not trained or licensed to lead the voyage and there was insufficient safety equipment such as life jackets and no flares or radio on board.

The court heard that when the boat got into trouble a number of migrants inside the vessel described water reaching their knees within 30 minutes of leaving the French coast.

Mr Atkinson said: “He, as the pilot, owed to the passengers of that small and vulnerable boat for their safety during the crossing that he had agreed to make.

“He was aware that the boat was overcrowded, lacking in safety equipment and, as it took in water, that it was increasingly unseaworthy.”

During the trial, asylum seeker Amrullah Ahmadzai described how everyone on the boat was screaming and trying to call for help on their mobile phones, before being rescued by a fishing boat, RNLI boat and Border Force.

He described how the skipper tried to steer the dinghy towards the fishing vessel to help the passengers, and was shouting at everyone to “calm down, I'm going to take you there”.

The court heard from witnesses that before the voyage the group of migrants were transported in three cars to the shoreline, organised by Kurdish agents.

Another traveller, Ghanam Gul Ahmadzai, said the smugglers were “cruel” to the migrants, sometimes beating them.

A total of 39 survivors were brought to shore in Dover but the exact number of migrants who drowned is unknown, Mr Atkinson said.

Three of the four people who died were known only as unknown male persons, while one man was named Hajratullah Ahmadi.

Giving evidence in court, Bah said that smugglers beat him up and threatened to kill him when he refused to pilot the boat.

The defendant told jurors he agreed to pilot the boat before he had seen it, in exchange for free travel for himself and his friend.

The court heard that it was Bah's dream to come to the UK to claim asylum, and he had left Senegal in 2019.

He told police, when he arrived in the UK, that he had travelled from Senegal to Mali, Algeria and then Libya, before going by boat to Italy using smugglers.

Bah will be sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday February 23.

Updated: February 20, 2024, 1:09 PM