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The funeral procession after seven people were killed when a boat packed with migrants sank at the weekend as the Lebanese navy tried to force it back to shore, in Tripoli, north Lebanon. AP

The Lebanese army on Sunday recovered the bodies of six people who were on a migrant boat that capsized soon after setting off the night before. The death toll may climb amid uncertainty over how many people were on the boat.

Lebanon‘s National News Agency said the bodies were found near a small island off the coast of the northern city of Tripoli.

The army announced earlier that 47 people were rescued and the body of a young girl was recovered.

It said high waves submerged the overloaded boat, which was believed to have been carrying at least 56 people.

Several of the rescued were treated on the spot while others were taken to nearby hospitals, the army said. One person was detained on suspicion of being a people smuggler.

Search operations began on Saturday night after the boat, apparently heading to Europe, capsized shortly after leaving the coastal town of Qalamoun.

Transportation Minister Ali Hamieh on Sunday morning confirmed to the local Al Jadeed TV station that eight more bodies were recovered.

Authorities did not know the exact number of people on board because they left the country illegally, he said.

The army and security forces were deployed at Tripoli’s port, where ambulances were on standby to receive survivors.

Relatives of those on board the capsized boat held a vigil at the entrance to the port to await news of their loved ones.

“My nephew, he has five children and his wife is pregnant with twins. He was trying to escape hunger and poverty,” one man told AFP.

Nissrine Merheb was also waiting for news of her two cousins and their children who were on the boat.

“The people of Tripoli are destined to die,” she wrote in a post on Facebook.

“Even when we are trying to run away from the filth of politicians and their corruption … death catches up with us,” she said.

Lebanon was once a country that took in refugees but, since a financial meltdown that began in late 2019, people have been leaving on boats in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

The migrants pay smugglers thousands of dollars for the journey. Hundreds have made it to European countries, while dozens of others were stopped and forced to return home by the Lebanese navy. Several people lost their lives over the past three years.

Lebanon’s economic meltdown, widely blamed on political corruption and mismanagement, has pushed more than three quarters of the country’s population into poverty. The World Bank describes the crisis as among 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 per cent of its value.

With reporting from agencies

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