BEIRUT — Tens of would-be irregular migrants were rescued from the sea off the coast of Herri, Chekka in North Lebanon at dawn Saturday after the vessel they were aboard began to sink, the Civil Defense and Lebanese Army confirmed to L’Orient Today. The Lebanese Army's naval forces, along with maritime teams from the Civil Defense, rescued around 30 people who were on the verge of drowning after their boat got into trouble during an illegal migration attempt.
The official numbers of migrants rescued and those still lost at sea have not yet been determined, with the various bodies involved in the rescue mission giving conflicting information.
The Lebanese Army said in its statement that 27 people were rescued, while the Civil Defense announced that it had rescued 28 migrants, and a security source told L'Orient Today's correspondent in the north that there were 35 people aboard the vessel and all of them had been rescued.
“The army responded to a distress call in the early hours of Saturday. The call came from a woman who was aboard an illegal migration boat [allegedly] carrying 35 individuals, whose nationalities have not been determined yet,” a security source told L’Orient Today.
“The Lebanese Army's naval forces successfully rescued all the passengers, including the captain and crew, and transported them to the shore. The boat was also towed to safety,” the army said in a statement. However, the Civil Defense said in its statement that four passengers are still lost at sea.
The Civil Defense added that “search and comprehensive field surveys in that geographical area continue to locate the [other] four passengers whose fate remains unknown.”
The Civil Defense reported that it had, along with the army, rescued "passengers who were on board a 6-meter rubber boat that had been submerged in water, located approximately 1 kilometer from the shore. These rescued individuals were transported to safety and handed over to the Lebanese Army.”
Investigations into the incident are ongoing under the supervision of the relevant authorities.
The army warned in its statement “of the dangers of illegal migration as it poses an imminent threat to the lives of migrants, in addition to legal repercussions before the relevant authorities.”
Migrants paying $5,000 to $7,000 per person to be smuggled to Europe
The Internal Security Forces (ISF) also said in a statement Saturday that they had thwarted an illegal migration attempt last Sunday after obtaining information regarding the preparation for smuggling Syrian individuals to Europe from Arida beach in the north of Lebanon.
The ISF operation led to the arrest of the Lebanese smuggler, along with 42 individuals of Syrian nationality, including six children.
The Syrian individuals also admitted that they were planning to migrate to Europe via Cyprus in exchange for a fee ranging from $5,000 to $7,000 per person.
The number of individuals attempting life-threatening informal sea journeys from Lebanon to Europe has increased this summer season after a low at the beginning of the year, UNHCR Lebanon spokesperson Lisa Abou Khaled recently told L'Orient Today.
Reporting contributed by Michel Hallak