At least 61 people drown after boarding migrant boat Lebanon sank off the coast of Syria, the deadliest such ship from Lebanon in recent years.
country that has been Caught in economic crisis since 2019 What the World Bank described as one of the worst in modern times has become a launchpad for illegal migration, with its own citizens struggling to leave the country to join Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon’s acting transport minister Ali Hami said on Thursday more than 100 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that sank in the Mediterranean Sea near the Syrian city of Tartus.
Syrian officials said there were about 150 passengers on the boat.
“61 people have died and 19 others have been rescued when the boat sank,” Hami said.
Five of those rescued were Lebanese, he said, adding, “I am discussing a mechanism for the evacuation of bodies from Syria with the Syrian transport minister.”
Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s main ports. It is located about 30 miles (50 km) north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, where the passengers boarded.
His brother Ahmed said the survivors included Wissam al-Talawi from Lebanon’s northern Akkar region and were being treated in a hospital.
Two of Visam’s daughters, aged five and nine, died due to drowning. Ahmed said their bodies were returned to Lebanon where they were buried early Friday.
He said Visam’s wife and two sons were still missing. “They left two days ago. My brother could not afford his daily expenses or the cost of enrolling his children in school.”
Family members of others on the boat said they had gone to the Syrian border to inquire about their relatives.
Last year a number of migrants using Lebanon’s shores attempted to cross Europe in overcrowded boats alarmingly.
Dozens of people died when an overcrowded migrant boat chased by the Lebanese Navy sank off the coast of Tripoli in April, sparking anger in the country.
The circumstances of the incident were not entirely clear. Some aboard the ship said their vessel was hit by the Navy, but officials said the smugglers had recklessly attempted to escape. Many bodies were never recovered.
Turkey’s coast guard announced the deaths of six migrants, including two children, and earlier this month rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe off the coast of the southwestern province of Mugla.
They had reportedly boarded Tripoli in an attempt to reach Italy.
Most boats head to Lebanon, head to Cyprus, a member state of the European Union located 110 miles to the west.