BEIRUT (REUTERS, AFP) – Six people died when a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli, including at least one child, Lebanese transport minister Ali Hamie told Reuters.
The small dinghy carrying around 60 people sunk off the coast on Saturday night (April 24) with Lebanese and Syrians aboard.
Hamie told Reuters that a young girl’s body was retrieved on Saturday night and that the army had recovered another five on Sunday morning.
The army had previously said the vessel had left the coast illegally. In a press conference on Sunday, it said naval forces had crashed into the dinghy as the smuggler in charge tried to evade the military.
“The Lebanese military saved at least 47 people, but we don’t know how many more are missing because we don’t know the total number of those aboard,” said Hamie.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a national day of mourning on Monday.
Lebanon is suffering a severe economic crisis. The local currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value and pushed waves of Lebanese as well as Syrian refugees to try the dangerous sea journey to Europe on small dinghies.
Lebanese citizen Kassem al-Zoeibi, whose relatives had survived the capsize, said they had tried to flee Lebanon out of desperation.
“Why did they chose this way? It is because there is no way but this way,” he told Reuters.
The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi expressed her condolences on Sunday and said UN agencies were on the ground to help.
“It’s horrific to see deprivation still pushing people to take a perilous journey across the seas, sacrificing their lives and that of their children in search of a dignified life,” Rochdi posted on Twitter.
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 away.
This is up from 270 passengers, including 40 Lebanese, in 2019.