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Nearly 100 migrants break into Calais port in unprecedented attempt to reach UK

A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces on February 21, 2019 in Calais.
A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces on February 21, 2019 in Calais. Philippe HUGUEN / AFP

Nearly 100 migrants trying to reach Britain broke into the port of Calais Saturday night. Half of them managed to get on a Dover-bound ferry, causing severe overnight traffic delays.

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Migrants climb aboard Dover ferry using maintenance ladder

Dozens of migrants hoping to reach Britain scrambled aboard a cross-Channel ferry in northern France, sparking a 12-hour manhunt as police combed the ship to find them, officials said Sunday.

Around 100 migrants broke into the dock area of the port of Calais late Saturday, and dozens managed to get onboard the ferry that had just arrived from Dover, England.

A total of 63 migrants were detained, many of whom had tried to hide aboard the Danish-operated DFDS 'Calais Seaways', regional authorities said.

On Sunday morning, firemen talked down the last group of about a dozen migrants who had climbed high above the deck to a catwalk attached to the ship's funnel.

The migrants managed to get aboard the ferry by using a maintenance ladder at high tide, senior regional official Jean-Philippe Vennin told AFP.

"Two of the migrants fell into the sea and were quickly rescued by firemen," he added.

A migrant camp at Calais, from where hundreds attempt to reach the United Kingtom (File photo)
A migrant camp at Calais, from where hundreds attempt to reach the United Kingtom (File photo) RFI / Lígia Anjos

Ship scoured for missing migrants, cross-Channel traffic delayed overnight

Police offloaded vehicles arriving from Britain on the ferry before making a top-to-bottom search of the ship.

Those detained were taken to Calais police headquarters, Vennin said.

Cross-Channel ferry traffic was delayed overnight with at least two forced to remain at sea before being allowed into port.

The 'Calais Seaways' was itself moved overnight so the harbour could resume operations.

To reach the port area, "the migrants crossed a pedestrian gangway normally used by employees and I am convinced the place had been cased and that last night's operation was orchestrated by people smugglers," harbour master Jean-Marc Puissesseau told reporters after the police search ended.

"It's not normal to have 100 migrants break into a secure area such as a harbour. There must be a failure somewhere," local mayor Natacha Bouchart said, before blaming police force cutbacks.

"We must reinforce our police forces on the eve of Brexit which people smugglers exploit in a bid to promote their trafficking," regional president Xavier Bertrand said on Twitter.

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