At least six people were killed, including a little girl, and almost 50 more were rescued after a migrant boat capsized off the coast of Lebanon, state media said, in the latest tragedy at sea off the crisis-hit country. .
The ship capsized on Saturday night near the northern port city of Tripoli, the starting point for a growing number of people attempting a potentially lethal sea escape.
The deadly crash, weeks before parliamentary elections scheduled for May 15, is not the first of its kind for the crisis-hit country grappling with its worst financial collapse in history.
But it marks a grim reminder of the suffering behind a growing number of people, including Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees, who risk their lives at sea in search of a better future abroad.
“Army naval forces managed to rescue 48 people and recover the body of a dead girl… from a boat that sank while trying to remove them illegally,” the army said in a statement.
He said the ship that set sail from the Qalamoun region, south of Tripoli, capsized due to overcrowding and high water levels that nearly flooded the ship.
“Most of the people on board were rescued,” the army said, without specifying their nationalities or how many were still missing.
“Sea, land and air operations are underway to rescue the missing,” he said.
The military said a man was arrested for his alleged role in the smuggling operation.
The military recovered five bodies off the coast of Tripoli on Sunday, the state-run National News Agency reported, revising an earlier count of eight dead, hours after the body of a young girl was washed ashore.
One of the survivors claimed that an army boat was chasing the migrant boat and causing it to sink.
“The patrol boat crashed into us twice… to drown us,” the man told AFP at the port, before being silenced and led away by a crowd of relatives of the survivors.
Last November, a boat carrying dozens of would-be migrants also capsized off the coast of Tripoli after being chased by the Lebanese army.
The passengers were rescued and towed back to shore.
‘destined to die’
Lebanon, which has a “return” agreement with Cyprus to avoid crossings, is mired in an unprecedented financial crisis, with the currency losing more than 90 percent of its value and most of the population living below the threshold. of poverty.
The economic crisis has led to a surge in sea crossings out of the country, with increasing numbers of Lebanese joining the ranks of Syrian and Palestinian refugees trying to cross illegally into Europe.
The UN refugee agency says at least 1,570 people, 186 of them Lebanese, left or attempted to leave Lebanon illegally by sea between January and November 2021.
Most hoped to reach European Union member Cyprus, an island 175 kilometers (110 miles) away.
This is more than 270 passengers, including 40 Lebanese, in 2019.
Lebanon’s Transport and Public Works Minister Ali Hamie, who visited the port of Tripoli after the latest incident, called it a “major catastrophe”.
Meanwhile, calls circulated on social media for protests to be held on Sunday outside the Tripoli home of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Relatives of those aboard the wrecked ship gathered at the port entrance awaiting news of their loved ones.
“My nephew has five children and his wife is pregnant with twins. He was trying to escape hunger and poverty,” said a man waiting to enter the port.
Nissrine Merheb was also waiting for news of her two cousins and their children also on board the ship.
“The people of Tripoli are destined to die,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“Even when we are trying to run away from the filth of politicians and their corruption… death catches up with us,” he said.