The lives of 108 migrants attempting to make the crossing of the English Channel were saved by RNLI lifeboat crews last year, the charity has revealed.
Publishing the figures for the first time, the RNLI has disclosed that it “tasked and launched” 290 times during 2022 to incidents involving men, women and children. This makes up 3% of the 9,312 lifeboat launches by the RNLI for the entire year which saved a total of 506 lives nationwide, including beach lifeguard rescues.
The total number who made the crossing in 2022 reached a record 45,755, which has prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to make tackling small boat crossings a priority for his Government this year. So far in 2023, 8,858 people have made the crossing with the highest number to date this year – 616 – being picked up from 12 boats on Sunday, June 11.
In November 2021, 31 people died while trying to cross the Channel in a dinghy.
Read more: Water rationing brought back after heatwave saw 30c temperatures
RNLI chief executive Mark Dowie said: “We are extremely proud of all our volunteer lifeboat crews throughout the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands and that very much includes those working in challenging circumstances in the south east of England. We have never released these figures before, but they illustrate clearly that our charity’s work in the Channel is genuinely lifesaving.
“Sadly, we know there have been incidents in the Channel which have resulted in deaths, but without the brave actions of our crews, who are ready to answer their pagers day or night, 365 days a year, we can be certain there would have been more. The RNLI is unashamed and makes no apology for staying committed to and focused on the purpose we were created for, nearly 200 years ago – to save lives at sea.”
The RNLI, which was formed in 1824, has 238 lifeboat stations around the country which are co-ordinated by the Coastguard. The charity has brought in translation cards to aid communication with people from a variety of countries as well as new equipment to assist in its rescues including inflatable horseshoe life rings. And it is developing an inflatable platform known as sea stairs which can help speed up the recovery of large numbers of people from the water on to an all-weather lifeboat.
Head of lifeboats Simon Ling told the PA news agency: “This crossing and this rescue demand is very, very dangerous and the fact we have saved 108 lives just shows how perilous this journey is. Men, women and children getting into overcrowded dinghies crossing one of the most treacherous shipping channels anywhere in the world.”
He added: “This type of rescue is very challenging for a number of reasons, be that the number of casualties, the level of trauma that these casualties present. So for us it has been really important to understand what the risk is and work with our teams who face this unprecedented demand and come up with training, support and equipment that they feel suitably equipped to deal with this challenge.”
Mr Ling said that new auto-inflate horseshoes and giant donuts had been “proven to save lives”. He added that sea stairs currently under development which create an inflatable platform could help get 20 casualties out of the water in 90 seconds compared with the one minute per person of regular lifeboat rescue methods. He said: “In the context of a mass rescue situation, we believe this to be a game-changing piece of equipment.”
Mr Ling added: “The new equipment and procedures may have been developed for use in mass casualty scenarios in the Channel, but they have potentially widespread lifesaving application across the RNLI – and worldwide – for responding to any incident involving large numbers of casualties, such as a passenger ferry which is sinking or on fire.
Praising the crews involved in the rescues, he added: “We at the RNLI are incredibly proud of all our staff and volunteers but wish to signpost the outstanding commitment of nine stations in the south east channel.”