The death toll is unclear, as is the number of people who were traveling on the boat. Rescue operations are still underway.
However, French prosecutors have opened an investigation to identify the cause of the boat sinking, the Regional Rescue and Surveillance Operational Center added.
French Deputy Minister Marlene Schiappa expressed sadness at the incident and said the French government gave full support to the rescue operation.
“We learned with great sadness the sinking of a boat transporting 19 migrants to England. Despite the full involvements of state resources in the rescue operation, the death toll is heavy and still unclear,” Schiappa said on Twitter.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered support to French authorities as they continued to investigate the incident and vowed to “crack down” on gangs coordinating the journey.
“[We] will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journey,” he said.
The message was also echoed by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel who said she was “truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life,” in the Channel today.
“This tragic news highlights the dangers that come with crossing the channel and I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people,” Patel said in a statement.
Rise in crossings
The number of asylum-seekers arriving to the UK by small boats from across the English Channel has risen considerably since April 2020.
Analysis from PA news agency found that more than 7,400 people have made the perilous crossing to the UK by boat this year.
In August, a man was found dead on a beach in Sangatte, France. He and a friend had tried to cross the English Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, in an inflatable dinghy with shovels for paddles.
Sangatte Mayor Guy Allemand told CNN in September that more people were traveling on makeshift boats “due to the increased surveillance in ports and tunnels” after Franco-British security measures were ramped up last year.
CNN’s Emma Reynolds and Tara John contributed to this report.