The families of migrants who died when their boat capsized off Lebanon’s northern coast held funerals in the port city of Tripoli on Monday while rescue efforts continued to find dozens still missing.
The body of a woman was found on Monday in the search for survivors, raising the death toll to seven, Reuters reported. The small dinghy sank off the coast near Tripoli while being pursued by naval forces.
In the capital’s Bab Al Tebbaneh neighbourhood, large crowds gathered for funerals of the victims, including a boy and a young man from the Dandachi family who buried their loved ones while desperate to hear the fate of another eight still missing, among them children.
Amid Dandachi, 38, said he and his wife had barely survived the sinking. Their missing children likely had not.
“I tried to grab my son but I got a blanket instead. The water took him from me,” he said, his eyes red from crying.
His brother Bilal was also still waiting to know what had happened to his two children and wife, whose bodies he suspects are trapped in the sunken dinghy.
In the same neighbourhood, another funeral was being held for two more victims of the disaster, a young girl and a woman from the Sammak family. Men on foot and on motorcycles fired rifles into the air in mourning as they accompanied the bodies to the cemetery.
“The rescue operations went on all night and the Lebanese army was able to find the body of a woman. The total number of victims is now seven,” said Ahmad Tamer, head of the Tripoli’s port authority.
The Lebanese army said on Sunday that 48 people had been rescued. It was not clear how many would-be asylum-seekers were crammed on to the boat when it set forth.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said the boat was carrying at least 84 people when it capsized, about 5.5 kilometres off the coast of Tripoli, AFP reported.
The passengers were mostly Lebanese, with some Syrian and Palestinian refugees on board, the army said.
The circumstances that led to the small, overloaded craft sinking were not entirely clear, with some survivors claiming the navy rammed their boat. Officials said people smugglers in charge of the vessel attempted reckless escape manoeuvres.
Lebanon was once a transit point for asylum seekers from elsewhere in the region who were hoping to reach the shores of European Union member Cyprus by sea, an island 175km away.
Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value and pushed waves of Lebanese and Syrian refugees to attempt the dangerous sea journey to Europe on small dinghies.
At the weekend, relatives of the victims gathered in agitated crowds outside hospitals in Tripoli where the injured were being treated.
A few men waited outside the port on Monday morning in the hope of finding out about missing loved ones.
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