French magistrates have brought preliminary charges against five lifeguards in connection with the deaths of 27 people who drowned while trying to cross the English Channel in a rickety boat in November 2021.
The five soldiers are among the nine people under investigation in connection with the death on November 24, 2021.
They are accused of not helping people who are in danger, the judicial authorities said. According to a French media investigation, 15 calls from the boat were ignored.
The five, three women and two men, serve at the French Channel Maritime Surveillance and Rescue Center, authorities said. The task of the center includes the coordination of search and rescue operations.
They were released on Thursday after questioning.
France’s code of military justice strictly limits the detention of soldiers.
Preliminary charges give judges extra time to investigate. Earlier, magistrates issued preliminary charges against 10 others on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter and facilitating the illegal entry of migrants.
Who is responsible?
Utopia 56, a migrant advocacy group, welcomed the news of the accusation.
“We are naturally pleased that the investigation is progressing,” Charlotte Quantes told RFI. “But beyond the responsibility of individuals to respond to their hierarchy, we want to shed light on the responsibility of both the French and British authorities in this tragedy.”
The migrants on board the ship were mostly Iraqi Kurds – men, women and children between the ages of seven and 46.
Investigation on Le Monde daily last year, based on records, revealed that passengers first alerted officials at France’s English Channel rescue center overnight, saying their boat was blowing apart and the engine had failed. The group sent their location via WhatsApp, but the authorities did not respond.
It took 10 hours for rescuers to intervene when the fishermen raised the alarm.
The sinking was the deadliest migration disaster in the dangerous stretch of sea that separates France and Great Britain.
He drew attention to smuggling networks that prey on migrants.
Last June, French police arrested 15 people, mostly from Afghanistan. They are accused of running the contraband related to the fatal incident.
This has led to a major diplomatic row between France and Britain over who is responsible for migrants trying to cross the English Channel.
People continue to risk their lives in dangerous waters. More than 45,000 asylum seekers crossed the English Channel in 2022 – a record – mainly from Afghanistan, Iran and Albania. About 8,000 were rescued in French territorial waters.