A boat carrying migrants from France has sunk off the coast of Dunkirk, according to French authorities.
Three of the passengers, including a five-year-old child, have died, according to local media outlet Voice of the North.
An eight-year-old is also in critical condition, according to the outlet, which said the semi-rigid inflatable boat had capsized in the morning.
Eighteen passengers were taken to local hospitals, according to authorities.
Fishing boats, local lifeboat services, French customs boats, and a Belgian Air Force helicopter were involved in the search and rescue after a boat was seen in difficulty in the Channel at Dunkirk, according to an Oct. 27 statement from the Maritime Prefecture of the English Channel and the North Sea.
The local public prosecutor in Dunkirk has started an investigation into the cause of the boat sinking.
Authorities say search and rescue were first alerted by a passing sailboat after occupants spotted the migrant boat—thought to be heading for the UK—struggling in the waters of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
Search operations continued after the initial rescue, with some reports that more of the passengers are missing, including another child. It is unclear if operations continue at the time of writing.
In addition to the 400 ships a day, one of the dangers of the English Channel can be the temperature, which drops to a low of around six degrees Centigrade (42 degrees Fahrenheit) in the early spring. Today the water temperature was around 14 degrees (57 degrees Fahrenheit), according to French authorities, with the sea still retaining some heat from the summer.
The dangerous crossing has become more popular among people traffickers in recent years, although it makes up a smaller proportion of illegal immigration.
The British government said in the summer that it was pushing for greater flexibility to return illegal immigrants back to France after a surge in numbers crossing the English Channel.
During a spell of hot, calm conditions in the summer, hundreds of people within one week attempted the journey in overloaded rubber dinghies, prompting the government to ask the Navy to help.
“It is terrible that tragedy has struck in the Channel again,” Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal, said on Twitter. “People traffickers have no regard for life, no matter how old or young.”
“These perilous crossings must be stopped, once and for all, before there is more loss of life in these stormy winter seas.”
The sinking of the boat off Dunkirk comes after another high-stakes drama in the Channel over the weekend, when British Special Forces stormed an oil tanker and detained seven stowaways.
The stowaways had boarded illegally in Nigeria, according to the owners of the tanker. When they became threatening, the crew called police, sparking the military operation.