At least six killed as migrant boat capsizes off Lebanese coast

At least six killed as migrant boat heading for Cyprus capsizes after collision with Lebanese naval ship ‘in pursuit’ – as 48 are rescued from the Mediterranean

  • The boat carrying nearly 60 people capsized on Saturday night near Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli
  • Almost 50 people were rescued from the sea, but six were said to have been killed – including a little girl
  • Survivors speaking to local TV channels accused a naval patrol boat of deliberately crashing into the boat
  • But Lebanon’s navy said the captain tried to escape as they gave chase to stop the boat from launching

At least six people have died, including a little girl, after a migrant boat capsized off the coast of north Lebanon during a chase by naval forces, Lebanese officials said Sunday.

The country’s navy said 48 others were rescued from the overloaded boat, with survivors accusing a naval patrol boat of deliberately crashing into the migrant vessel, causing it to sink ‘in less than five seconds’.

The boat carrying nearly 60 people capsized on Saturday night near the port city of Tripoli, the departure point for a growing number of people attempting a sea escape to Cyprus – more than 100 miles away.

At least six people died, including a little girl, after a migrant boat capsized off north Lebanon during a chase by naval forces, Lebanese officials said Sunday. Pictured: Lebanese army search for survivors, near the port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022

The Lebanese army continue to search for migrants after a boat carrying 60 irregular migrants sank off the shore of Tripoli, Lebanon on April 24, 2022

Almost 50 others were rescued from the overloaded boat, with one survivor accusing a naval patrol boat of deliberately crashing into the migrant boat, causing it to sink. Pictured: A Lebanese navy vessel searches for people near the shores of Tripoli, Sunday, April 24, 2022

People gather at the entrance of the morgue of a hospital in Tripoli, as others carry the corpse of one of the people who died when their boat capsized a day earlier off the coast of the northern Lebanese city, on April 24, 2022.

The accident, ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for May 15, is not the first of its kind for the crisis-hit country grappling with its worst-ever financial crash.

‘The army’s naval forces managed to rescue 48 people and retrieve the body of a girl… from a boat that sank while trying to illegally smuggle them out,’ the army said in a statement. ‘Most people on board were rescued,’ the army added, without specifying their nationalities.

The army retrieved five corpses off Tripoli’s coast on Sunday, the official National News Agency reported, hours after the body of the little girl was returned to shore.

Wails of relatives rang out from a Tripoli morgue where the corpses were being kept, an AFP correspondent said. Dozens looked on as a group of men stormed the morgue and pulled out the corpse of a victim for burial, the correspondent said.

Outside, dozens of young men lobbed stones at two army tanks and at a nearby army checkpoint, prompting soldiers to fire live rounds in the air.

At Tripoli’s port, relatives of the missing impatiently waited for news of their loved ones. ‘My nephew, he has five children and his wife is pregnant with twins. He was trying to escape hunger and poverty,’ one man told AFP.

Commander of the Naval Forces, Colonel Naval Haissam Dannaoui, holds a picture of a Lebanese navy ship as he speaks during a press conference explaining the circumstances of the boat that sank off the coast of Tripoli in North Lebanon, Lebanon, 24 April 2022

Medics wait on the pier as soldiers search for survivors off the coast of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on April 24, 2022

Pictured: Lebanese emergency responders wait for potential survivors next to stretchers as the rescue search continues, April 24, 2022

A Lebanese army soldier gestures to health workers inside an ambulance after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, at the entrance of port of Tripoli, April 24, 2022

Haissam Dannaoui, the head of Lebanon’s naval forces, said the 33-foot boat built in 1974 was crammed with nearly 60 would-be migrants and took to sea without any safety precautions, he told a news conference.

Dannaoui said the army tried to thwart the smuggling operation before the ship sailed out of the Qalamoun region, south of Tripoli, but could not reach the departure point in time. An ensuing sea chase saw two naval patrols trying to force the migrant boat to turn back.

‘Unfortunately, the captain (of the migrant boat) decided to carry out manoeuvres to escape,’ leading to the vessel crashing into the patrol ships, Dannaoui said. 

‘The impact cracked the hull of the migrant boat, which quickly submerged. In less than five seconds, the boat was under water,’ Dannaoui said, adding that passengers were quickly handed life jackets.

But several survivors told local TV stations that the Lebanese navy is to blame for the incident. They said a military ship rammed their migrant boat twice, damaging it, in an effort to force it to return to the coast. 

‘The patrol boat crashed into us twice… to drown us,’ one man told AFP news agency at the port, before he was silenced and carried off by a crowd of survivors’ relatives.

Medics wait on the pier as soldiers search for survivors off the coast of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on April 24, 2022

Lebanese army soldiers stand near a vehicle entering port of Tripoli after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, in Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022

A Lebanese army helicopter takes part in the search of missing people from an overnight sinking of a migrant boat, near Tripoli, north Lebanon, Sunday, April 24, 2022

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi called for an end to these repeated tragedies.

‘It’s horrific to see deprivation still pushing people to take a perilous journey across the seas,’ she said on Twitter.

The latest incident stoked public anger in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of its poorest.

Growing poverty and unemployment rates have turned Tripoli into a launchpad for illegal migrants, including Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees.

Calls circulated on social media networks for protests outside the Tripoli home of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who declared Monday a day of national mourning to grieve the victims.

The relatives of the victims and the missing lashed out at the country’s leaders.

‘Even when we are trying to run away from the filth of politicians and their corruption… death catches up with us,’ said Nissrine Merheb who hasn’t heard from her two cousins and their three children since they embarked on the deadly voyage.

Lebanese army continue to search for migrants after a boat carrying 60 irregular migrants sank off the shore of Tripoli, Lebanon on April 24, 2022

Commander of the Naval Forces, Colonel Naval Haissam Dannaoui, points at a picture of a Lebanese navy ship as he speaks during a press conference explaining the circumstances of the boat that sank off the coast of Tripoli in North Lebanon, at the Naval Base in Beirut, Lebanon, 24 April 2022

A man cries at the entrance of the morgue of a hospital in Tripoli, where corpses of people who died when their boat capsized a day earlier off the coast of the northern Lebanese city are kept, on April 24, 2022

Relatives of people who died when a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, sit outside a governmental hospital in Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022

A Lebanese Armed Forces helicopter hovers above the port of Tripoli, a day after a boat of around 60 migrants capsized off the coast of the northern city, on April 24, 2022

Lebanon is in the grips of an unprecedented financial crisis, with the currency losing more than 90 percent of its value and the majority of the population living below the poverty line.

The economic crash has spurred an uptick in illegal sea crossings, with Lebanese nationals increasingly featuring among the Syrian and Palestinian refugees attempting sea escapes.

The UN refugee agency says at least 1,570 people, 186 of them Lebanese, left or tried to leave illegally by sea from Lebanon between January and November 2021.

Most were hoping to reach European Union member Cyprus, an island 175 kilometres (110 miles) away.

In the second half of 2021, Lebanon stopped around 500 would-be migrants from crossing out of the country, the country’s naval chief said Saturday.

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