Aboard Abel Languedoc, the Guardian of the Canal’s Untouchables

First a thin black line on the horizon. Then silhouettes waving arms and asking for help. Dozens of migrants got lost in the English Channel on a stationary inflatable boat. The sailors at Abeille Languedoc go to their rescue.

Clear skies, calm seas, five knots of wind: the conditions were perfect for trying to cross into England, the crew of the tugboat chartered by the French Navy swore in unison.

On a Monday morning as the sun rises over the English Channel, a radio message arrives at 7:20 a.m. from the Regional Monitoring and Rescue (Cross) Operations Center Gris-Nez: A boat has gone out of engine off Cap Blanc Nez. It is necessary to rescue about fifty migrants on board the ship.

The commander trips for the GPS coordinates sent by the cross.

“The bee weighs 4,000 tons, and it is an elephant that follows a small mouse,” explains Pascal Lugentil, head of the majestic 60-meter-long, 14-meter-wide building. He scans the horizon for the little boat.

Covid adheres, sailors wear FFP2 suit and masks. Four marines, armed soldiers, are stationed on the aft deck of the boat, where the castaways will disembark. They ensure the protection of the crew.

– girl crying –

It was past eight in the morning when the captain from afar saw the little boat floating silently in the middle of the strait. On board are 56 migrants packed, from Ethiopia, Iraq, Eritrea, Vietnam and Nigeria. They wave their hands and beg for help.

When we go see them, “we try to reassure them as much as possible, let’s tell them + that’s it, it’s over, we’ll take you back, you’re safe with us +,” says Nicholas, the second captain, who happens to be aboard the tires to rescue them. Then “we assess the condition of the people on board and prioritize getting people back. As a priority, women and children.”

On that day, the first to set foot on the ship was a pregnant woman and five children. Among them was a little girl of seven or eight, with a thin green headdress and clips in her hair. I burst into tears.

The team carried her by the shoulder to drive her into the boat, where the women and children are warmed. Some wrap themselves in survival blankets. “It’s my mother, my mother!” A young teenager screams when he sees his mother go up.

Soldiers search the men and take them to the rear. Their most valuable possessions are in plastic bags. Some, without shoes, are frozen. The water is 11 degrees.

– ‘Without water and nothing…’ –

The first attempt was made by 28-year-old Mohamed Masri. Not sure if it will start again.

“A lot of stress,” says the young man who wants to join England “to work” and “live better”. “The situation in the boat was very difficult, without water and nothing …” he says.

He explains that he left the beach early in the morning. But after two hours of navigation the engine stopped, forcing the passengers to call for help via mobile phone. All immigrants know the emergency numbers before they go to sea.

Despite the risks, the number of crossings tripled in 2021, with more than 28,000 migrants arriving in England compared to 8,466 in 2020. 38 people died, including 27 victims of the same shipwreck on November 24.

More than 7,000 exiles have already arrived on the British coast since January, even if the authorities have noted a decrease in the number of crossings in recent weeks, without any discernible explanation.

About ten turns between the makeshift boat and Abeille Languedoc are necessary to rescue 56 migrants. The wrecked boat is then towed before being intentionally punctured.

Women and children resting in a small sitting room. Calm returned, some slept, snuggled against his mother.

Sailors provide biscuits and dry clothes. And stuffed toys for children light up their faces again.

The 56 castaways landed at the quayside in Boulogne-sur-Mer and were then taken care of by firefighters and border police.

Before leaving the port, some collect their life jackets. Ready to start over.

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