Tensions rise in Tripoli amid claims Lebanese Navy rammed migrant boat

"It is better to escape and drown than to live in a country that does not respect its citizens, where we starve every day."

 Relatives of people who died when a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, gather at the entrance of port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022. (photo credit: OMAR IBRAHIM / REUTERS)
Relatives of people who died when a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, gather at the entrance of port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022.
(photo credit: OMAR IBRAHIM / REUTERS)

Clashes and demonstrations broke out on Sunday in Tripoli, Lebanon, after survivors rescued from a sinking boat of migrants claimed that the Lebanese Navy had rammed the boat and caused the disaster.

At least seven people were killed in the sinking and 45 others were rescued. Rescue efforts are continuing and the number of people missing remains unclear.

A survivor of the incident told the Lebanese Annahar news site that a Lebanese Navy vessel had collided with the migrant boat, damaging it and causing it to sink, adding that it had chased them in an attempt to prevent them from sailing to Italy.

The survivors told Annahar that if they have another chance to escape on an illegal migrant boat, they'll take it, despite the risks. "It is better to escape and drown than to live in a country that does not respect its citizens, where we starve every day," one of them said. 

The Lebanese Army claimed on Sunday afternoon that the migrant boat had hit a naval boat while trying to escape, saying that if the navy had not worked to stop the boat it would have sunk further away from Lebanon's shores and without the navy to help rescue the passengers.

Lebanese army soldiers search for survivors after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, near port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022 (credit: OMAR IBRAHIM / REUTERS)Lebanese army soldiers search for survivors after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, near port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022 (credit: OMAR IBRAHIM / REUTERS)

According to Annahar, one of the three smugglers who arranged the illegal migrant boat has been arrested.

The families of the victims demanded that all ministers and representatives in the city leave, stating that they would "continue their movement with escalatory steps," according to Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA).

A day of mourning has been declared in Lebanon for Monday in light of the disaster. Prime Minister Najib Mikati expressed his condolences to the victims on Sunday, stating that "speeding up investigations to uncover the circumstances of the incident is necessary to find out the truth behind the causes of the painful accident."

Lebanese Defense Minister Maurice Selim cautioned against attacking security forces because of the incident, saying "the scale of the tragedy and the intensity of anger are not expressed by attacking the military establishment, whose men performed their duty to persuade the passengers of the boat not to complete their way and return to the shore."

"And if the treatment of this painful incident was accompanied by circumstances that are still controversial, the transparent investigation carried out by the army command and the competent military and judicial agencies will help to clarify the truth that we are keen to clarify in full to put matters in perspective, determine responsibilities and cut off any exploitation of the blood of the victims and the fate of the missing and the sufferings of their relatives," Selim said, according to NNA.

The defense minister warned against causing "any imbalance that could be exploited by those who stalk the country and its people."

Head of the Christian Lebanese Forces party Samir Gaegea tweeted on Sunday that "The death boat off Tripoli's shores is the result of despair, deprivation and marginalization that affects the city and its people. The judiciary and security services must move quickly to clarify the circumstances of this case and to hold the perpetrators from any side accountable."

Head of the "Dignity Movement", MP Faisal Karami, stated on Monday that "We clearly hold the government and the state, with all its apparatuses and administrations, responsible for what happened, and we consider that the state, whether it intends or not, is waging a war of extermination against the Lebanese [people]."

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called for a quick investigation into the incident, saying that the reports surrounding it were a "very serious matter" and that those responsible must be held accountable.

"As usual, we in Hezbollah are ready for anything that can heal the wounds," Nasrallah said. "We are ready and we will not falter at all."

The Hezbollah movement expressed its condolences to the victims, calling the incident a "very tragic manifestation of the deepening economic and social crisis in the country as a result of wrong policies and long decades of neglect and deprivation that ultimately led to the difficult conditions that our country and people are going through."