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France was furious after its navy was forced to divert to the Mediterranean to rescue a record 100 British tourists after the crew of a stricken fishing boat was forced to leave its dead and dying at sea because there was no life boat available.
The French border protection agency (DGCCRF) said it had launched Operation Orpheus to save Britons from drowning after the fishing boat capsized off Les Cèdres in the far north-east of France, setting the country ablaze in diplomatic dispute over immigration.
The agency summoned the British ambassador, Sir Simon McDonald, to explain his government’s actions after ministers publicly questioned why Britain was not involved in the rescue.
The DPA reported that in an unusually sharp diplomatic row France demanded an explanation for the “lack of a British responsibility”.
At least 46 passengers, including four Britons, drowned when the French trawler Sint Illi left the Falaise in-situ anchorage on the Normandy coast, to go fishing.
The 100 rescued men and boys were transferred to France’s Guy-de-Jour patrol boat on Friday and brought to Saint-Nazaire.
They arrived early on Saturday with UK officials helping them and they were taken to Saint-Nazaire to be reunited with their families, the DPA reported.
Earlier a senior official in the Belgian region of Flanders, Jean-Marc Solace, slammed the “shock” of the events as France’s Mediterranean rescues became “total madness”.
“For 11 days, British citizens drowned while waiting for a rescue. It’s total madness. For 11 days they waited to be rescued by a ship without even indicating a need to come ashore in France.”
Vanessa Waselicky, director of the Help for Heroes charity, which supports Britain’s wounded troops, criticised the British government’s “lack of gesture”, although French officials said that it had not contacted the British government about Operation Orpheus.
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French interior minister Gérard Collomb tried to draw a line under the affair when he visited the rescue operation and launched a salvo at those who were questioning France’s response.
“After 11 days, we have been able to confirm that Britain did not even want to be directly involved [in the rescue operation],” Collomb said.
“According to the plan, the rescue should have been carried out by France … We find this intolerable.”
He said he had told French soldiers involved in the rescue to stay in their barracks.
“I am sorry if anyone feels exasperated … but these pictures cannot tell the full story of France’s response. France did everything it could,” he said.
“Last Saturday at 4am, something happened at sea. We were told that 46 people died. By Saturday night we found out it was 106, including four British people. So last weekend 54 people drowned when the fishing boat capsized.
“On Saturday night we found out the operation had to be transferred to a different ship which had a life boat, 20 of whom needed rescuing,” he said.
The British government’s efforts to secure legal action against an Islamic State-linked charity saw a high court judge rule on Wednesday that it had not breached British privacy laws by posting images of the bodies of those killed in air strikes in Syria.
Alex Maskell, leader of the Welsh assembly, accused the British government of failing to properly share with Wales what it had done in the wake of a boat sinking in March, which left 12 Britons dead.
“Even though the appeal process has been exhausted, the Welsh government have had no answers as to the vital facts surrounding that situation,” he said.
The British government had repeatedly refused requests to respond on the deaths of the nine men and one woman.