Several migrants have drowned while trying to get to the UK across the Channel in an inflatable dinghy, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin has said.
"Strong emotion in the face of the tragedy of several deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel," Mr Darmanin said in a tweet, adding that he was heading to the scene.
He did not say how many had died, but local authorities said they were waiting for doctors to confirm the deaths of five people.
France 3 TV is reporting that 24 bodies have been recovered and 26 people rescued.
Earlier, a police source told the Reuters: "A search and rescue operation is under way off the coast of Calais.
"We think several people have died as their vessel sank."
French newspaper La Voix du Nord said that shortly before 2pm a fisherman alerted authorities that multiple people were in the water off the coast of Calais.
The coast guard told Reuters that 20 people had been found at sea.
One fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, told Reuters he had seen two small dinghies – one with people onboard and another empty.
He said another fisherman had called the rescue operation after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless in the water.
The marinetraffic app currently shows three rescue boats and one helicopter in the region.
The Dover Strait is the busiest shipping lane in the world and has claimed many lives of people trying to cross to Britain in inflatable dinghies.
More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK this year – three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.
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