Seventeen bodies were recovered yesterday after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon sank off Syria’s coast, raising the overall toll to 94, Syrian state television said, in one of the eastern Mediterranean’s deadliest such episodes.
The toll has repeatedly ratcheted higher since the first bodies were found on Thursday.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, described the shipwreck as a “heart-wrenching tragedy” and the search for those still missing continued beyond nightfall.
At least 14 survivors were recovering in hospitals in Syria, while six others were discharged.
Two remained in intensive care in Al-Basel Hospital, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported earlier.
“The death toll from the boat that sank off the coast of Tartus has risen to 94,” state television said.
The Lebanese army said that it had arrested a Lebanese national who “admitted to organising the recent (people) smuggling operation from Lebanon to Italy by sea”. Lebanon, a country which hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.
Nearly three years of economic collapse have turned the country into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave by dangerous sea routes.
As many as 150 people were on board the small boat that sank off the Syrian port of Tartus, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Tripoli in Lebanon, from where the migrants set sail. Those on board were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included both children and elderly people, the UN said.
Families in Lebanon held a second day of funerals yesterday after they were handed bodies of relatives on Friday night through the Arida border crossing.
Others still await the bodies of their relatives.
In Tripoli, anger mixed with grief as relatives received news of the death of their loved ones.
Mourners chant slogans as they march with the body of one of the victims who drowned in the shipwreck of a migrant boat that sank off the Syrian coast, during his funeral after the return of his body in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli, yesterday.