Submarine begins Lebanon ‘Death Boat’ recovery bid

Special Submarine begins Lebanon ‘Death Boat’ recovery bid
A Lebanese naval vessel, carrying relatives of victims, sails past a launch platform for a submarine that is intending to find a boat, carrying migrants, that capsized in April, Tripoli, Aug. 22, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 22 August 2022

Submarine begins Lebanon ‘Death Boat’ recovery bid

Submarine begins Lebanon ‘Death Boat’ recovery bid
  • Lebanese expats fund mission to retrieve bodies of 30 people who died in tragic sinking
  • 11 lawyers, representing families of the victims, have filed judicial complaints accusing 13 Lebanese Navy members of sinking the boat

BEIRUT: A specialist submarine paid for by Lebanese expats living in Australia on Monday located the wreckage of a so-called “Death Boat” which sank off the coast of northern Lebanon in April, killing more than 30 people, mainly women and children.

The remains of those trapped inside the vessel when it capsized on April 23 have been found, authorities said.

At least 85 migrants, mostly Lebanese, along with Syrians and Palestinians, were believed to have been on the boat heading to Italy to seek asylum when the vessel was intercepted by the Lebanese navy in a night-time operation.

It is still unknown if the boat capsized as a result of being overloaded or if it was deliberately rammed by naval forces, as some survivors claim.  

A total of 48 people were rescued and seven bodies retrieved, while 30 people, mostly women and children, are still missing.

Wreckage of the “Death Boat” was found at a depth of 470 meters around 90 minutes off the coast of Tripoli.

The three-man submarine crew coordinated with the Lebanese military before launching their mission to locate the boat’s remains.

Chief of the Lebanese Navy Haitham Danawi said that the retrieval operation is expected to take several days, “and we are following up and providing all necessary facilities.”

Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, former head of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, the submarine will help investigations into the tragedy by photographing the capsized boat, and will also retrieve the remains of the vessel and the victims’ bodies.

According to Rifi, who played a part in bringing the submarine to Lebanon, the operation will cost around $250,000 and has been funded by Lebanese expats’ donations, in coordination with the Australian Relief Organization.

The submarine, named Pisces Vi, is owned by an Indian company and can dive to 2,500 meters.

Lebanese authorities said that an “operations room” has been established at Tripoli naval base to monitor developments at the wreckage site and to provide updates on the boat’s retrieval.

Rough seas forced a postponement of the mission on its opening day before the vessel was located on Monday.

Families of the missing victims, including survivors who lost their spouses and children, followed up on developments from the coast.

Some families accused the Lebanese government of “abandoning its responsibilities toward them,” adding that it was left to private organizations and individuals to fund the retrieval operation.

In mid-June, 11 lawyers representing families of the victims filed judicial complaints accusing 13 Lebanese Navy members of sinking the boat. The complaints are still pending and Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun has promised to carry out “transparent investigations.”

Families of the victims are hoping that the boat’s retrieval will help the investigations. DNA testing will be used to identify bodies found in the wreckage.

Despite the “Death Boat” tragedy, migrants continue to risk their lives in a bid to reach Europe from Lebanon, with the latest attempt taking place early on Saturday, 24 hours before the launch of the submarine retrieval operation.

Three poorly equipped fishing boats — each carrying more than 65 men, women and children from villages in the north of the country, in addition to Syrians and Palestinians — are believed to have set sail from northern Lebanon. Their fate remains unknown.