At least 73 people have drowned after the migrant boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off the Syrian coast, the deadliest shipwreck of its kind from Lebanon in recent years.
The country, which has plunged since 2019 into a financial crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a springboard for illegal immigration, with its citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees demanding to leave the country.
Syrian state television quoted Health Minister Muhammad Hassan Ghobash as saying that 73 people had died and 20 had been rescued alive.Read:US to name Arctic ambassador as thawing pole heats superpower rivalry | Arctic
Lebanese Transport Minister-designate Ali Hami said more than 100 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that sank in the Mediterranean off the Syrian city of Tartus on Thursday. Syrian authorities said about 150 passengers were on board the boat.
He said that among those rescued were five Lebanese, adding: “I am discussing with the Syrian Minister of Transport a mechanism to retrieve the bodies from Syria.”
Tartus is the southernmost of the main ports in Syria. 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 that Wissam Tallawy from the Akkar region of northern Lebanon was among the survivors and was being treated in hospital.
Wissam’s two daughters, aged five and nine, died in drowning. Ahmed said their bodies were returned to Lebanon, where they were buried early Friday morning.Read:Ukraine ‘exploiting poor Russian leadership’ in new offensive, says UK
He said Wissam’s wife and two sons are still missing. “They left two days ago. My brother could not afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling his children in school.”
Other family members on the boat said they had gone to the border with Syria to try to get information about their relatives.
The number of migrants using Lebanese beaches to attempt the perilous crossing to Europe in overcrowded boats rose last year.
Dozens were killed in April when an overcrowded migrant boat that the Lebanese navy pursued off the coast of Tripoli sank, sparking outrage in the country.
The circumstances of the accident were not entirely clear. Some of those on board said the Navy rammed their ship, but officials said smugglers attempted reckless maneuvers to escape. Not many bodies were found.Read:Charles’ succession stirs Caribbean calls for reparations, removal of monarch as head of state
The Turkish Coast Guard announced that six migrants, including two children, were killed and 73 people were rescued trying to reach Europe off the coast of the southwestern province of Mugla earlier this month.
They reportedly ascended to Tripoli in an attempt to reach Italy.
Most boats leaving from Lebanon head for Cyprus, an EU member state located 110 miles to the west.