Tensions flared in Tripoli, Lebanon’s northernmost city, on Sunday when a boat overturned and drowned off its coast while being followed by the army, with enraged crowds gathered outside hospitals treating the survivors.
Six individuals were killed, including Taleen Al-Hamwi, an 18-month-old girl, and two women.
As of Sunday morning, 45 people had survived, while more than ten persons were still missing.
A group of about 60 individuals boarded the boat from a beach between Qalamoun and Harisha that is not subject to stringent surveillance and is frequently used for human smuggling.
The ship was on its way to Cyprus, then to continental Europe.
On Monday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati declared a national day of mourning.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has urged for a “rapid investigation” to uncover the facts and determine who is to blame. Otherwise, we’ll say something else.”
“When conditions lead Lebanese residents to resort to death boats to flee the state’s hell, we are in a fallen state,” he tweeted. Tripoli is proclaiming the fall of its regime today through its victims. The testimony of the death boat victims are harmful, and we will not allow (these testimonies) to be buried in the city’s sea.”
Families of the victims flocked to the beach to learn what had happened to the missing. Their rage was directed against the Lebanese army as well.
According to journalist Ghassan Rifi of Tripoli, the boat featured a lower cabin where the ladies and children were most likely sheltering. He speculated that they may have perished along with the boat.
Col. Haitham Dannawi, the commander of the naval forces, accused the boat’s captain of attempting to flee by ramming the craft against the navy forces’ cruiser.
He said the ill-fated boat was built in 1974.
He said during a news conference that it was modest, measuring 10 meters long and 3 meters wide, with a maximum load of only 10 people. However, there were no safeguards in place.
“The patrol that followed the boat a few miles from the beach and in territorial seas tried to persuade it to return because the situation was unsafe and the boat would have sunk beyond the territorial waters if we hadn’t stopped it,” he said.
According to him, naval forces did not employ any weapons.
“The boat sank fast due to the overburden, and the number of victims would have been higher if our forces had not been there alongside it.”
He said the boat was carrying 15 times its capacity and that the army had made no mistakes on the technical or ground levels.
“In the army leadership, we take complete responsibility, and if there is any verbal offense, we will hold the person responsible.”
Soldiers and families clashed at Tripoli’s port as the families attempted to prevent Mikati’s delegated Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar from completing his press statement.
During the victims’ funerals, the families hurled obscenities at him and the other officials present, and heavy shooting erupted in the Al-Qubba neighborhood.
Angry protestors in Tripoli demolished a military medical complex, prompting calls for the city’s streets to be shut down and a “major escalation” declared.
“The security cruiser chased us, and the officers on board warned they would bury us,” one of the survivors, a young man in his twenties who was wet and shivering, stated just after midnight on Saturday. The boat was then hammered in the centre and sides until it sank.”
According to security insiders, the number of victims could increase.
The unfortunate occurrence occurred just a week after the army foiled an illegal immigration effort at the Arida border crossing in the north, seizing a boat carrying 20 Syrians, including women and children.
“Migrants pay smugglers hundreds of dollars. “Everyone paid at least $2,000 in the Saturday incident,” Rifi claimed.
According to the Lebanese Army Guidance Directorate, the army halted 21 boats transporting 707 people last year.
The army intercepted four boats transporting 126 people in 2020.