04/26/2022, 19.21
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Scores of migrants drown, go missing near Tripoli after boat capsizes and sinks

by Fady Noun

Most of the victims were women and children. While the search at sea continues, hope of finding survivors is diminishing. UNHCR sources say that at least 84 people were on board of the boat. Its sinking has caused outrage with many blaming the country’s Navy. People protested near the prime minister’s residence, focusing on him as a symbol of political corruption.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A boat carrying migrants sank off Tripoli, northern Lebanon, last Saturday night. Lebanese authorities have rescued several passengers, as well as recovered seven bodies, but 30 people, mostly women and children, remain unaccounted for and hope of finding them alive is diminishing by the hour.

In a statement, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) noted that at least 84 people were on board the vessel, intercepted near Lebanese territorial waters, about 5.5 km from the coast. According to local sources, some 39 people are either dead or missing, in large part women and children, some unable to swim.

Ongoing investigation

The Lebanese military has launched an investigation to determine the causes of the tragedy. Several survivors said that the boat sank after it was chased by a patrol boat. A survivor told AFP that it was struck twice before the families of other survivors told him to keep quiet and took him further.

At a press conference on Sunday at the Beirut naval base, the commander of Lebanese Navy, Captain Commodore Haissam Dannaoui, denied this version of events, saying that the 10-metre by 3-metre boat, built in 1974, carried eight times more people than its maximum capacity. He explained that the migrants’ boat made a wrong manoeuvre in an attempt to avoid the patrol-boat and hit the latter.

A military source added that, upon impact, the ship’s hull split and the boat sank in five seconds, a claim confirmed by one survivor.

Funerals under tensions

Yesterday, two days after the funerals on Sunday of the six migrants whose bodies were recovered, people in Tripoli’s Tabbaneh and Qoubbeh districts were still grief-stricken and seething with anger, openly venting their despair and fury.

Sobbing, Mohammad Dandachi, his voice chocking, talked about how his three children, including a 40-day-old infant, drowned. One family lost 11 members in the tragedy.

Protesters blamed the authorities for their inaction, for the widespread poverty, in a country whose currency lost more than 90 per cent of its purchasing power.

Citing survivors, the L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper said that the man who organised the deadly crossing was also on the boat with his wife and children. He had promised to take people to Italy, a stopover before travelling to Germany.

According to several survivors, he demanded a thousand dollars per person, claiming that the money was needed to make the boat seaworthy and safe. He even boasted of having installed two engines on board just in case one broke down.

In Beirut, people held a tense sit-in on Monday outside the residence of Prime Minister Nagib Mikati, which was protected by security forces.

A video shared on social media shows a banner hung in front of a luxury yacht moored in Nice (south-eastern France) that belongs to Prime Minister Mikati. It reads: “The people of Tripoli are being murdered by the owner of this yacht”.

With a fortune estimated at US$ 2.7 billion, according to Forbes magazine, Mr Mikati, who hails from Tripoli, for many in Lebanon symbolises the country’s system of power, centred on corruption and nepotism, whose members are suspected of getting rich illegally.

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