As Lebanon orders investigation into Tripoli boat tragedy, families want answers on military's role

As Lebanon orders investigation into Tripoli boat tragedy, families want answers on military's role
The search for missing passengers of a migrant boat that capsized off Tripoli's coast continues as the Lebanese government orders the military to investigate claims they were responsible for the fatal sinking.
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Many of the missing are from the Lebanese port city of Tripoli [Ibrahim Chalhoub/AFP via Getty]

The Lebanese government on Tuesday ordered the armed forces to investigate claims a military vessel was involved in the fatal sinking of a migrant boat on Saturday night, which left at least six dead with many more missing. 

The boat was carrying dozens of Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians to Cyprus when it went down off the coast of Tripoli with around 23 people still missing, all women and children, according to Lebanese authorities. 

Some survivors have said a Lebanese military boat rammed the vessel causing it to sink, a claim the armed forces deny but leading to heated scenes in Tripoli on Sunday evening.

Lebanon's Information Minister Ziad Makari said: "[We] tasked army command with conducting a transparent investigation into the circumstances behind the incident under the supervision of the relevant judicial authority."

Victims of boat disaster in Tripoli
Relatives of the families have taken to the streets of Tripoli over the tragedy [Getty]

Survivors and families, though, say they have no confidence in any probe conducted by the government and its apparatus, threatening to escalate the situation if the truth is covered up, as many Lebanese believe happened with investigations into the 2020 Beirut Port blast.

They also called on the military to work with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to intensify the search and said any investigation into the tragedy should be conducted by the competent judiciary.

Some families said they are sceptical about the authority's efforts and taken up the search themselves, yet bad weather has hampered this. Survivors of the tragedy estimate between 60 and 80 passengers were on the boat before it sank.

"We are taking the initiative ourselves by going out in our own small boats to search for survivors. There are no official figures on the number of passengers that were on the boat, and there is a discrepancy in the numbers people are giving," told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister newspaper, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

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In the Al-Qubba neighbourhood of Tripoli, where many of the passengers were from, tensions have been simmering as the search continues. Gunfire broke out on Sunday evening amid protests over the situation.

Tripoli has been one of the worst hit cities by Lebanon's economic crisis plunging millions into poverty and forcing many to take the treacherous journey by sea to Cyprus due to the conditions.

The UN says more than 1,500 people tried to leave Lebanon in migrant boats to the EU island state since the start of 2021, according to AFP.

One of the missing is 22-year-old Hashem Muthalaj, an engineering student who was forced to cut his studies short after his family were unable to pay his fees due to the economic situation.

His sister and her husband were also on board the migrant boat but survived. Muthalaj is still missing, his father said.

Thousands have attempted to leave Lebanon due to the worsening economic situation with almost four in five people living below the poverty line.

Ahmed Tamer, director of Tripoli Port, said the search is ongoing and that a Greek frigate is taking part in operations.

"The port administration has placed all its resources at the disposal of the rescue teams and the Red Cross," Tamer said.

The Tripoli Bar Association said a team of lawyers would be available to provide legal assistance to survivors and victims' families.

"[We will] work hard with officials to refer the case to the Judicial Council, provided that a judicial investigator is appointed as quickly as possible to collect evidence and establish testimonies, in order to ascertain the truth and ensure justice," the Bar said.

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The Lebanese Council of Ministers held a session on Tuesday devoted to the incident and assigned the High Relief Commission to assist the families of the victims.

With many still missing at sea after four days, many are now fearing the worse.

Abu Hashem, a Tripoli resident, said his daughter collapsed in grief after hearing that her husband's mother, brother, and sister died in the tragedy.

"We are starving, and they just watch us and then blame us," he said of the politicians.

"I can't feed my children, educate them, or afford a doctor for them. This is what has made the sea look like their only option."


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.

Translation by Rose Chacko