Only two men made a “miracle escape” from the thin rubber boat – which was depicted by a fisherman after capsizing and losing most of the air.
The victims so far were mostly unidentified Iraqi Kurds and Somalis who had paid the equivalent of up to £ 6,000 each.
Very few of them wore life jackets, and most are believed to have succumbed to hypothermia in the cold canal.
Seven of them were women, one of whom was expecting a child, while three children were also among the dead.
Autopsies will take place in Lille “in the next few days”, says Carole Etienne, the city’s prosecutor, who is leading a criminal investigation into the tragedy.
The survivors – an Iraqi Kurd and another Somali – have stated that a container ship collided with their boat, which caused it to be emptied, according to rescue workers who were first on the scene.
Bernard Barron, chairman of the SNSM’s rescue service in Calais, spoke of “mass murder”.
He described how the “floating death trap” meant not carrying more than ten people “was completely emptied when we found it”.
It comes as:
Mr Barron said: “Migrants are being forced into the boat and their feet are in water and fuel. These are unimaginable conditions.
“Often, only women and children have life jackets, and these boats have no navigation lights or radar receivers.”
Charles Devos, one of the first SNSM rescuers to reach the victims, said: “We have seen the boats become more and more overcrowded.
The inflatables are only designed for ten people, but more than 50 have been packed on board and turned into floating death traps.
“We always thought that one day or another they would collide with a container ship or a ferry.”
Rescuers believe the boat left Loon-Plage, near Dunkirk, on Wednesday morning and collided with the container ship at the border with French territorial waters.
The two men “performed a miracle escape”, Devos said, but their condition at the Calais hospital was said to be “extremely serious”.
“Get away with murder”
You were the deadliest day ever crossing crisis and led to a bitter debt game between French and British ministers.
This morning, French police were out in force near Calais and stopped a busload of migrants wearing life jackets.
And families were seen setting up a new makeshift camp near Dunkirk after police allegedly smashed their tents to move them on.
Those arrested for the drowning – whose names have not been released – are all men who were stopped as they fled to the Belgian border on Wednesday night.
They are expected to appear before local judges this week for a speedy trial.
All are believed to be part of a criminal gang and they are charged with murder and “aiding and abetting illegal immigration in an organized gang”.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, also accused the smugglers of being murderers, saying: “The poor migrants spent months and months coming here and died so close to their dream.”
The tragedy occurred when migrants rushed to make the dangerous crossing ahead of winter storms that are expected to drag into the weekend.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin revealed that 255 migrants reached Britain on Wednesday.
President Emmanuel Macron said France would not allow the canal to become a “cemetery”.
Prime Minister Jean Castex spoke of a “terrible tragedy” and added: “My thoughts go out to the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who are exploiting their plight and misery.”
MAYBE now, with almost 30 migrants tragically dead in the canal, politicians on both sides of it will finally act.
Maybe the French will end their infantile anti-Brexit games, order their police to get off their backs and stop these treacherous dinghies sailing.
That police officers would be idle yesterday while terrified and frozen children were packed into potentially deadly boats was not only shameful. It was inhuman.
Perhaps our own government will introduce an appropriate asylum system, not our chaotic, lax regime that acts as a magnet for illegal immigration.
The evil people smugglers, of course, bear the ultimate responsibility. France had to send an army of police to lock them in, as Britain paid them £ 54 million to do so.
But these evil gangs have only one trade due to incompetence and lack of will on both sides. And because the EU’s open borders allow migrants to cross Europe and reach the French coast unhindered.
Hundreds a day now risk crossing into the knowledge that if they succeed, they will be fed, housed and never removed.
Unless both sides act, more horrific and horrific deaths are extremely inevitable.
And Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, said: “I have been warning for weeks and months that this kind of tragedy must happen.”
She accused Britain of lax benefits schemes to encourage immigration.
She added: “The British government has introduced immigration controls on our territory for the past 20 years.
“It has never had the courage to control this immigration at home. You have to react, react quickly to make it all stop.”
At the same time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused France of not doing enough to stop migrants from crossing the canal.
He said the smuggling gang “literally got away with murder”.
Approximately 27,000 migrants have crossed the canal this year – which far overshadows the approximately 8,000 who arrived in 2020 and 1,000 who arrived in 2019.
More than 4,000 have made the trip in November so far, the largest ever in a month, and the increase shows no signs of slowing down.
WARNINGS FALL ON DEAF EARS
FRANCE was warned a year ago that it would create a cemetery at sea if it closed its eyes to canal crossings.
And it was repeated in Calais last night when the mayor accused Paris of ignoring their appeals for help while a record number made the dangerous journey of 220 km this year.
Almost 26,000 migrants have arrived in 2021 and drownings have increased. More than 6,000 people have passed through in the last three weeks, ten times as many as in November 2020.
On November 11, the record 1,185 landed in a single day. However, only 1,844 people arrived throughout 2019. Deaths have also increased by at least ten migrants known to have drowned in the past three weeks.
A year ago, the charity Save the Children warned: “The English Channel must not become a cemetery for children.”
Last night, Calais Mayor Natalie Bouchart slammed President Macron. She said: “It has been weeks and months since I warned of this situation.”
Boris Johnson condemns traffickers as at least 31 migrants drown in the deadliest incident ever on the canal