Syria Migrant Shipwreck Toll Rises to 53

Rescuers search for victims and survivors off the coast of Syria's southern port city of Tartus on September 22, 2022, after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon capsized in the Mediterranean sea || AFP Photo

Rescuers search for victims and survivors off the coast of Syria's southern port city of Tartus on September 22, 2022, after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon capsized in the Mediterranean sea || AFP Photo

At least 53 migrants have drowned after a boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off Syria's coast, Lebanon's transport minister said Friday, the deadliest such shipwreck from Lebanon in recent years, reports AFP.

Ali Hamieh said more than 100 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that sank Thursday in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian city of Tartus.

"53 people have died and 19 others were rescued following the sinking of the boat," Hamie said, meaning dozens more remain unaccounted for.

Of those rescued, five were Lebanese, he said.

"I am discussing with Syria's transport minister a mechanism to retrieve the corpses from Syria," Hamieh told AFP, adding that search and rescue efforts continued.

The death toll is the highest from a migrant boat journey from Lebanon in recent years. 

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.

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

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 passengers had initially boarded.

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 circumstances of that incident were not entirely clear, with some on board claiming the navy rammed their vessel, while officials insisted the smugglers attempted reckless escape manoeuvres.

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 Italy.

Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member Cyprus, an island 175 kilometres (110 miles) away to the west.

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