73 dead in migrant shipwreck near Syria after leaving Lebanon


At least 73 migrants drowned when a boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off the coast of Syria, the Syrian health minister said Friday, the deadliest shipwreck from Lebanon in recent years.

Lebanon, which has been embroiled in a financial crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times since 2019, has become a launching pad for illegal migration, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamoring for to leave the country.

About 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian city of Tartus on Thursday.

“The number of victims of the shipwreck has reached 73 people,” Syrian Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabash said in a statement, adding that 20 survivors were treated at the hospital in Tartus.

Of those rescued, five were Lebanese, Lebanon’s Transport Minister Ali Hamie told TUSEN.

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“I am discussing with the Syrian transport minister a mechanism to get the corpses out of Syria,” Hamie said.

Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s main ports and is located about 50 kilometers north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, where the passengers had boarded.

“We are dealing with one of our largest ever rescue operations,” Sleiman Khalil, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Transport, told TUSEN.

“We cover a large area stretching along the entire Syrian coast,” he added, saying high waves made their job a challenge.

– Dangerous crossing –

Many of the boat’s Lebanese passengers come from impoverished regions in the north of the country, including the city of Tripoli, the poorest in Lebanon.

Tripoli has emerged as an illegal migration hub, with most migrant boats departing from the coast.

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Wissam al-Tlawi, a Tripoli native who hails from the northern Akkar region, was among the survivors and is being treated in hospital, his brother Ahmad told TUSEN.

But the bodies of Wissam’s two daughters, aged five and nine, had been returned to Lebanon, where they were buried early Friday, Ahmad said.

“They left two days ago,” he added.

“(My brother) could not afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling his children in school,” he added, saying Wissam’s wife and two sons remain missing.

Other relatives told TUSEN they had arrived at the Syrian border to check on their relatives.

Last year, Lebanon saw a spike in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt the perilous crossing in crowded boats to reach Europe.

In April, the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat being chased by the Lebanese navy off the north coast of Tripoli killed dozens of people, sparking anger in the country.

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The circumstances of that incident were not entirely clear, with some on board claiming that the navy had rammed their ship, while officials insisted that the smugglers were trying to make reckless escape manoeuvres.

Many of the bodies have never been recovered.

On September 13, the Turkish Coast Guard announced the deaths of six migrants, including two babies, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe, off the coast of the southwestern province in the back.

They had reportedly boarded from Tripoli in Lebanon in an attempt to reach Italy.

Most boats departing from Lebanon go to Cyprus, a member of the European Union, an island located 175 kilometers (110 miles) to the west.


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