73 people drowned: refugee boat sank off the coast of Syria

At least 73 people have drowned when a refugee boat coming from Lebanon sank off the coast of Syria. The Syrian Ministry of Health announced on Friday that 20 survivors of the accident were being treated in the hospital in the Syrian port city of Tartus. According to Syrian sources, there were around 150 people on board the small boat.

The Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamie spoke of more than 100 people. Most were Lebanese and Syrian. The search for missing persons continued.

Helpers carry away a body.
Helpers carry away a body.
© Syrian Red Crescent / AFP / –

The boat sank on Thursday off the coast of Tartus in the Mediterranean Sea. Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s major ports and is located around 50 kilometers north of the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, which has become a center of irregular migration.

In the course of the rescue operation, official bodies had to correct the number of victims upwards several times. “The number of victims of the shipwreck has risen to 73, while 20 people are being treated in the Al-Basel hospital,” Syrian Health Minister Hassen al-Ghabash said on Friday. The hospital is in Tartus.

This is one of the largest bailouts we’ve ever had.

Syrian Ministry of Transport official

According to the Lebanese Transport Minister Hamie, five Lebanese are among the rescued. Hamie told AFP that he was talking to his Syrian counterpart about how the bodies could be transferred from Syria to Lebanon.

“We are dealing with one of the largest rescue operations that we have ever had,” said an official with the Syrian Ministry of Transport. “We cover a large area that stretches across the entire Syrian coast.” High waves made rescue operations difficult, he added.

Rescuers search for victims and survivors of the sunken boat.
Rescuers search for victims and survivors of the sunken boat.
© Uncredited/AFP / –

Many of the Lebanese boat occupants came from the impoverished regions in the north of the country, such as Tripoli, one of Lebanon’s poorest cities. So did the father of the family, Wissam al-Talawi, who, according to his brother Ahmed, survived the accident and is being treated in hospital.

However, Wissam’s daughters, aged five and nine, died, Ahmed told the AFP news agency. Their bodies had already been taken to Lebanon and buried there early on Friday. Wissam’s wife and two sons are still missing.

Ambulances are waiting on the Lebanese side.
Ambulances are waiting on the Lebanese side.
© Photo: Fathi AL-MASRI / AFP / FATHI AL-MASRI

“They left two days ago,” Ahmed said. His brother could no longer afford the daily living expenses and the money for his children’s school.

More and more people are fleeing Lebanon

Over the past year, Lebanon has seen a surge in the number of migrants making the perilous crossing from its shores in overcrowded boats to Europe. The destination of most boats is EU member Cyprus, which is 175 kilometers away.

Many of the refugees leaving Lebanon for the EU across the Mediterranean are Syrians. However, the worsening economic crisis in Lebanon has led to more and more Lebanese fleeing. According to the United Nations, at least 38 boats with more than 1,500 people on board have attempted to leave Lebanon since 2020. (AFP)

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