Lebanese army tasked with migrant boat investigation despite accusations by survivors
Survivors from the tragedy say a Lebanese army vessel caused the migrant boat to sink by ramming into it twice
By News Desk - April 27 2022

Hundreds in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli joined the funeral procession of the migrants who perished during the tragedy of 24 April. (Photo credit: AP)

During an emergency session on 26 April, Lebanon’s cabinet tasked the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with investigating the overcrowded migrant boat that capsized off the coast of Tripoli a few days earlier.

The decision by officials comes despite the fact that survivors from the tragedy have placed the blame squarely at the feet of the LAF.

Most accounts from survivors say that an army vessel chased down the migrant boat after they set off for Cyprus, then encircled it before ramming into it twice, cracking the hull of the boat and causing it to capsize.

Survivors say that the crew of the army vessel also threatened to “bury” the migrants if they did not stop.

According to the LAF, at least seven people died while 48 were rescued in the aftermath.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the boat was carrying at least 84 people. Families of the victims have reported that at least 23 migrants are still missing, all women and children, according to Tripoli Port director, Ahmad Tamer.

They include seven Syrians and two Palestinians, the official said.

Reports also indicate that the boat captain, a Syrian man whose family perished in the tragedy, has been arrested.

During the government’s emergency session on 26 April, LAF commander General Joseph Aoun reportedly gave a “detailed presentation of the facts of what happened with the boat,” according to an official statement by the president’s office.

The statement also said that Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a billionaire tycoon who hails from Tripoli, had “great confidence in the army command and we are sure that it is keen to preserve the lives of all Lebanese and the credibility of the investigations.”

Lebanon’s military court is staffed by members of the LAF, and observers have in the past raised concerns about its independence.

Last year, General Aoun travelled to Cyprus and pledged to help the island nation combat illegal immigration stemming from Lebanon.

This has raised accusations that the aggressive actions by the LAF are not made in protection of Lebanon, but in protection of the interests of European nations that are facing growing waves of illegal immigration from crisis-hit countries in the global south.

In the hours following the tragedy, the head of Lebanon’s Naval Forces, Captain Haitham Dannaoui, categorically denied the accusations against the army for their role in the sinking.

“It is out of the question that we could have possibly caused any harm to the boat. This would have caused our own boat to sink, so this is not debatable,” Dannaoui said.

The official went on to say that the captain of the overcrowded and dilapidated boat had carried out “escape maneuvers,” causing it to collide with the army vessel.

And despite his announcement of a “transparent investigation,” Dannaoui concluded his press conference saying he “confirmed that no technical error occurred.”

Hours after the migrant boat sank, another boat set off from Tripoli to Cyprus carrying at least 75 migrants. However, despite similar attempts by the LAF to stop it, this boat was able to make it to the EU nation.

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