Paris: At least 27 migrants drowned on Wednesday in the English Channel after a boat capsized off the coast of Calais, northern France.
The information was confirmed by the French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin after the initial toll said 31 migrants had died but the minister revised this number down to 27, reported CNN.
Speaking outside a hospital in Calais, Darmanin said five women and a girl were among the dead. Two people were saved and one person is still missing, he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson both expressed horror at the tragedy and sent their condolences to the families of the victims.
Macron said his country would not let the English Channel become a graveyard and urged his European counterparts to increase efforts to avoid future tragedies, reported CNN.
"To the families of the victims, to their loved ones, I want to express my compassion and the unconditional support of France," the President said in a statement.
"I assure them that everything will be done to find and condemn those responsible, networks of smugglers who exploit misery and distress, endanger human lives and ultimately decimate families," he added.
Macron said France had been working with the United Kingdom for several months to dismantle smuggling networks, reported CNN.
"Since the beginning of 2021, thanks to the mobilization of 600 police officers and gendarmes, 1,552 smugglers have been arrested on the northern coast and 44 smuggling networks have been dismantled," he said.
"Despite this action, 47,000 attempts to cross to Great Britain have been made since January 1, with 7,800 migrants saved by our rescue services." France's regional maritime prefecture earlier said a search-and-rescue operation for survivors was ongoing in the Strait of Pas-de-Calais, and described it as the worst-ever accident in the stretch of water, reported CNN.
Last week, 243 people were rescued in the English Channel as they tried to cross to the UK.
More than 25,700 people have crossed the English Channel to the UK so far this year in small boats, according to data compiled by Britain's PA Media news agency. This is three times the total for the whole of 2020, PA reports.