Tuesday, 21 January 2020
A large search and rescue operation was deployed in the North Sea early on Tuesday, after authorities were alerted that over a dozen people were in the water after their boat capsized.
At around 3:30 AM, police found a man against the sea wall in the coastal town of De Panne, on the border with France.
The man, who was freezing and wearing a wetsuit, told police officers that 13 other people were at sea after their boat capsized, De Morgen reports.
A large rescue operation was immediately launched, with four lifeboats, police officers and fire crews scouring the waters for the missing persons.
Due to the foggy conditions, the police helicopter could not be deployed but the rescue teams successfully located a small boat at knee-height in the water as well as a cart used to wheel the boat into the sea.
Five people were found hiding in a bus nearby and was interrogated by the police.
Mayor Bram Degrieck said that rescue teams had managed to pull everyone known to be in the water, adding that they were “most likely” asylum-seekers.
Residents of the town reported seeing the group head to sea, with witnesses on the scene telling De Standaard that they were wearing makeshift life jackets.
“The people we found said that everyone from their group went back ashore, but we are still looking for a number of people,” who he said may have fled to the beach and were probably freezing.
The rescue operation comes after police on both sides of the English Channel reported a spike in sea crossings from Europe to Britain, saying that people smugglers were telling migrants and asylum-seekers that the crossing would be more difficult after Brexit.
The Brussels Times