A huge search and rescue operation was launched after Belgian authorities were alerted that a boat carrying more than a dozen migrants had capsized in the North Sea.

Police found a man shivering in a wet suit leaning up against the sea wall in the coastal town of De Panne, according to De Morgen.

He told them 13 others were still at sea after their boat overturned, prompting officers to scramble fire crews and four lifeboats to help scour the waters.

They were unable to deploy a helicopter due to the foggy conditions, but still quickly managed to locate a small boat along with a cart used to wheel it into the sea.

Five others were soon found hiding on a nearby and all six were arrested.

Mayor Bram Degrieck said further searches are now focusing on the remaining eight migrants, said to include two young girls.

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He said: ‘The people we found said that everyone from their group went back ashore, but we are still looking for a number of people.’

Residents were reported to have seen the group preparing to head to sea, with some telling De Standaard they had fashioned makeshift life jackets.

The rescue operation comes after authorities on both sides of the Channel reported a surge in attempted sea crossings from Europe to Britain.

People smugglers are said to have warned migrants and asylum-seekers that crossings would be more difficult after Brexit.

The National Crime Agency said earlier this week that migrants attempting the crossing from France were using ‘surge’ overwhelm border patrols.

Last year 336 migrants arrived in August alone, including 86 in one day.

At least two are known to have died while trying to reach the UK.

Border Force officials in Kent intercepted three rubber dinghies on Tuesday morning in what is believed to have been the first crossing of 2020.

They were pictured handing the migrants blankets as they were being processed and put into a van.