Lebanese army finds 5 bodies on sunken migrant boat | Radio WGN 720

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AP) — The Lebanese army on Sunday recovered the bodies of five migrants whose boat carrying nearly 60 people sank the previous night, raising the death toll to six, state media reported.

The National News Agency said the five bodies were found near a small island off the northern city of Tripoli. He had previously reported that eight bodies had been recovered, but later reduced the number to five.

Several survivors told local television stations that the Lebanese Navy was responsible for the incident. They said a military vessel rammed their migrant boat twice, damaging it, in a bid to force it back to shore.

Colonel Haitham Dinnawi, commander of the Lebanese navy, told reporters that the migrant boat was old and could only carry six people. He added that no precautionary measures were taken on the boat and no one was wearing life jackets.

Dinnawi accused the captain of the migrant boat of maneuvering to avoid being forced back ashore and blamed him for ramming one of the two navy vessels. He showed photographs of the damage to the side and stern of a navy boat, adding that the migrant boat sank seconds after the accident.

“It was a crime to take people on such a boat,” Dinnawi said, adding that it was made in 1974 and carried 15 times its capacity. He said the search for missing persons was still ongoing, adding that they had so far found the bodies of six people, including five on Sunday and one on Saturday.

Survivor Mustafa al-Jundi told The Associated Press that the navy tried to stop the migrant boat but it continued to sail.

“They rammed us and made us sink and then moved away,” said al-Jundi, whose two sisters are still missing. He said the Lebanese army returned about 90 minutes later and rescued them.

Earlier on Sunday, the Lebanese army announced that 47 people had been rescued and the body of a young girl had been found. The military said high waves swamped the boat, which was carrying more people than it could hold.

Several of the survivors were treated on the spot while others were taken to nearby hospitals. A person suspected of being a smuggler who sent the migrants has been arrested, the army said.

Search operations began on Saturday evening after the boat, apparently heading for Europe, sank shortly after leaving the Lebanese coastal town of Qalamoun.

For many years, Lebanon was a country that welcomed refugees, but since the country’s economic collapse began in October 2019, hundreds of people have left on boats in the hope of a better life. in Europe.

Migrants from Lebanon pay smugglers thousands of dollars to take them to Europe in the hope of a better life. Hundreds of people arrived in European countries, while dozens more were arrested and forced to return home by the Lebanese navy. Several people have lost their lives on the way to Europe over the past three years.

Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country of 6 million inhabitants, including 1 million Syrian refugees, is in the grip of the worst economic crisis in the country’s modern history. The economic crisis has plunged more than three quarters of the country’s population into poverty.

The World Bank describes the crisis as one of the worst in the world since the 1850s. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed reporting from Beirut.

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