Channel Tunnel: Channel Tunnel ‘safe’ after rubber duck leak

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption French vessels poured fresh water into Calais

Video showing trucks sinking on the Channel Tunnel remained the main talking point among French and British media and politicians.

Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel said the water had triggered the panic, which had created the risk of serious injuries and environmental damage, as well as disrupting travel.

Seven people were briefly trapped when five Eurotunnel trucks sank.

But one French rescue official said the tunnel “is safe and they could have shot us at any moment”.

What is the story?

On 1 February, dozens of trucks were stuck for hours on the tracks leading from the French side of the Channel Tunnel in Coquelles, in the Channel Tunnel national park.

Image copyright Eurotunnel Image caption Pictures from Channel Tunnel shows vehicles stuck in a tunnel last week

One truck, a Toyota Corolla, sank after the water level of the tunnel’s flood zone rose. Three others were stuck close by.

French authorities have since said the water came from a French rubber duck across the tunnel that had been placed there to attract pigeons.

A Eurotunnel spokeswoman described the situation as a “tragedy” and said it had been brought under control.

“We are trying to establish what the cause of this tragedy was and why the flooding occurred,” she said.

She added that the tunnel was still safe and used for regular transport of goods from Britain to France.

The BBC’s Caroline Gluck in Coquelles said many details were still sketchy.

No-one had been injured or killed as a result of the incident, but two trucks were swamped by the flooding and 16 were damaged, the spokeswoman said.

Eurotunnel said on Saturday the problem was due to a flood inside a tunnel area associated with the rubber duck.

It is not clear if the rubber duck, which the Belgian company claims was put there illegally, is still there.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Footage shows rammed, damaged lorries

British Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been accused of dropping the ball on the issue by not better informing UK authorities.

But a French official, Laurent Houari, confirmed in a statement to BBC News on Saturday that the tunnel was open for business.

“In the past 15 days since the incident on 30 January, we have had no other flooding events,” he said.

“Now we have calm as the problem has been solved and the Eurotunnel (GL) services are back in operation with guarantee.”

Both France and Britain said they would resume talks over the matter, although a meeting has not yet been announced.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Vessels carry water towards British airports from Calais Port

How have media outlets reported the story?

Many newspapers and networks reported the incident on Saturday, although many focused on the crisis as a rare mishap involving refugees trying to stow away on trucks.

“Truckers on track to sink,” read the headline on the BBC website, while the Evening Standard in London reported that people were trapped when the area had been flooded.

Others highlighted that the incident had cast doubt on an agreement French officials had said would guarantee “total openness” on migrants trying to get to Britain.

The Sun said the incident highlighted the “cruelty” of the firm.

A warning from the Channel Tunnel union said: “This low point shows that management are not treating the vulnerable and vulnerable passengers – who are often illegal immigrants – with any respect.”

The story dominated French media reports, including on Saturday, where Channel Tunnel officials had initially claimed there was no problem.

This had been seen as out of touch, given some boats attempting to get to the UK sank while undergoing emergency checks in January.

France’s centrist Prime Minister Edouard Philippe fired off a letter to Mr Grayling, criticising the fact that nobody from the UK had responded to his calls, as well as his decision to exclude the unions and the Chambre des Travailleurs (CNT) from the initial review of how the incident had been handled.

However, Mr Grayling said on Twitter he had been in contact with his French counterpart and the CNT.

He also said he was attending a “very good meeting” in London with the unions.

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