UK court convicts small boat pilot of migrant deaths in Channel

Ibrahima Bah, from Senegal, was the pilot of an inflatable boat that sank shortly after leaving France. Four people lost their lives, while 39 were rescued

File photo of an inflatable craft carrying migrants crosses the shipping lane in the English Channel on August 4, 2022 off the coast of Dover, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Shajil Kumar

A man who piloted an “unseaworthy” boat across the English Channel was found guilty Monday of the manslaughter of four migrants who drowned during the crossing.

Ibrahima Bah, from Senegal, took the helm of the poor quality inflatable carrying 43 people, which should have held no more than 20 passengers, in December 2022.

But within 30 minutes of leaving the northern French coast, the boat got into trouble, with water lapping around the knees of the dozens crammed on board, according to evidence heard at Bah’s trial.

Nearly 30,000 migrants crossed the Channel from mainland Europe to Britain in small boats in 2023, according to UK government figures.

The numbers are a political headache for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who last year pledged to “stop the boats”.

Bah, who is over 18 but whose exact age is in dispute, had denied the charges but was found guilty of four counts of manslaughter.

The jury also found him guilty of one charge of facilitating illegal entry to the UK.

Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson had told the trial at Canterbury Crown Court in southeast England that Bah was aware the boat was “overcrowded, lacking in safety equipment and, as it took in water… increasingly unseaworthy”.

A rescue operation plucked 39 people from the water and took them to safety. But the four others were pronounced dead.

The court heard that Bah, who had no training, did not pay for his own journey because he had agreed to pilot the boat.

Giving evidence in his defence, he said he agreed to pilot the boat before he had seen it, in exchange for free travel for himself and a friend.

He claimed he changed his mind on seeing it but that the people smugglers beat him and threatened to kill him if he did not go ahead.

Three of the four men who died have never been identified. The fourth was named as Hajratullah Ahmadi.

A coroner’s inquest was told they may have been from Afghanistan and Senegal.

Bah told police at the time of his arrest he had travelled from Senegal to Mali and then eventually Libya, before going by boat to Italy using smugglers.

He will be sentenced later this week.

French authorities said last month that five migrants — including a 14-year-old Syrian boy — had died and 30 more were rescued after trying to make the journey to England’s southern coast in freezing temperatures. (AFP)