Baby among 21 people rescued from English Channel

Migrants rescued from English Channel
Dutch fishermen and French rescue workers save 21 people from the English Channel. December 29, 2019SNCF Dunkerque, courtesy of Premar MancheTwitter / Premar Manche

A fisherman from Urk in Flevoland saved 21 people attempting to cross the English Channel on Sunday night. Among them were a six-week-old baby, and two toddlers, according to several Dutch media reports, though one French authority said a total of 19 migrants were rescued, including 16 men, one woman, and two children.

All were "safe and sound, though some of those rescued at sea were suffering from hypothermia, said the Premar Manche, the French administrative region covering the Channel. The Dutch fisherman involved said the migrants would never have made the remaining 60 kilometers across the Channel to the United Kingdom.

"I saw the despair in their eyes. If we had arrived half an hour later, the boat would have sunk," said Dutch sea captain Tiemen Wezelman. He said the tiny boat was reported in distress as his crew aboard the Z182 Hennie fishing ship was headed back to Oostende, Belgium to offload their catch.

"There were about 21 people in need and we were the closest, so we went for it," Wezelman told RTL Nieuws. They made their way through dark, shallow seas until they spotted the flashlights active on the phones of some migrants stuck on their boat.

"As we got closer, everyone on the boat started to cry with joy," Wezelman said. Their boat had already taken on a substantial amount of water.

Once brought onboard the Hennie, the crew gave the migrants food, water and blankets. About a half-hour later, French rescue workers arrived and took the migrant group into custody.

French authorities told Wezelman on Monday that the rescued migrants had all survived the night.

The distress call was sent at about 9:16 p.m., according to Premar Manche, alerting all ships to the troubled watercraft roughly seven kilometers northeast of Dunkirk. The Hennie was crossing into Belgian waters at that time, and appears to have made a sharp turn to starboard at around 9:40 p.m., according to The Hennie departed again for Oostende, porting just before 1:30 a.m.

Premar Manche said the Channel crossing is extremely dangerous, with 120 days per year registering at least near-gale winds of up to 61 kilometers per hour. Wezelman said the strong tidal currents Sunday night were due to the Spring tide, and it was unimaginable that "they wanted to go to England with such a boat."