77 dead in migrant shipwreck off Syria after leaving Lebanon
DAMASCUS, Sept 23, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - At least 77 migrants drowned when a
boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off Syria's coast, Syria's health minister
said Friday, in one of the deadliest such shipwrecks in the eastern
Lebanon, which since 2019 has been mired in a financial crisis branded by
the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a launchpad for
illegal migration, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian
refugees clamouring to leave their homeland.
Around 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small
boat that went down Thursday off the Syrian city of Tartus.
"Seventy-seven people have died," Syria's Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabash
told state television from Al-Basel hospital in Tartus, where he said 20
survivors were being treated, including eight in critical condition.
Of those rescued, five were Lebanese, Lebanon's caretaker transport
minister Ali Hamie told AFP.
Tartus is the southernmost of Syria's main ports, and lies some 50
kilometres (30 miles) north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli,
where the migrants had boarded.
"We are dealing with one of our largest ever rescue operations," Sleiman
Khalil, an official at Syria's transport ministry told AFP, as the search for
"We are covering a large area that extends along the entire Syrian coast,"
he said, adding that high waves were hampering their efforts.
Russian ships were assisting in search operations, according to Syrian
- 'Identify the dead' -
Rana Merhi of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said identified bodies would be
transported to a border crossing to be handed over to the Lebanese Red Cross.
"Some of the relatives of the victims came from Lebanon... to identify the
dead," said Ahmed Ammar, a Tartus health official.
Many of the boat's Lebanese passengers hail from impoverished regions in
the country's north, including Tripoli.
The city has emerged as a illegal migration hub, with most migrant boats
departing from its shores.
Among the survivors was Wissam al-Talawi, a Tripoli resident who was being
treated in hospital, his brother Ahmad told AFP.
But the corpses 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) couldn't afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling
his children in school," he said, adding that Wissam's wife and two sons were
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent published images on its Facbeook page showing
volunteers carrying corpses covered in bags into an ambulance.
Other rescuers were pictured searching for survivors along the coast of
- 'Humiliating life' -
At the Arida border crossing between Lebanon and Syria, dozens waited for
corpses to arrive.
They included residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared
north of Tripoli -- which is home to some of the dead and missing.
"I am an old man but if I had the chance to die at sea I would rather do
that than lead a humiliating life in this country," one of them said from the
crossing as awaited news of his missing niece and nephew.
Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants using its
shores to attempt the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.
In April, the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat pursued by the
Lebanese navy off the northern coast of Tripoli killed dozens of people,
sparking anger in the country.
The exact circumstances of that incident are still unclear, with some on
board claiming the navy rammed their vessel, while officials insisted the
smugglers made reckless bids to escape.
Many of the bodies were never recovered.
On September 13, Turkey's coastguard announced the death of six migrants,
including two babies, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe, off the
coast of the southwestern province of Mugla.
They had reportedly boarded from Tripoli in Lebanon in an attempt to reach
Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member
Cyprus, an island about 175 kilometres to the west.