Submarine in Lebanon finds seven bodies from April boat tragedy

Vessel capsized with 80 people onboard as it attempted to sail to Italy

The Pisces VI submarine at a Lebanese Navy base, in Tripoli, north Lebanon. AP
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A submarine in Lebanon has found the remains of at least seven people who died when their boat sank off the Lebanese coast earlier this year as they sought to migrate to Italy, the naval officials said.

The boat, carrying around 80 Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, went down more than five kilometres from the northern port of Tripoli, following a clash with the Lebanese Navy.

Seven bodies were recovered the night of the incident including a child, while 48 survivors were pulled from the Mediterranean.

According to Lebanese Navy estimates, 30 people died.

Since Monday, a three-crew Pisces VI submarine has been searching for the remains. The vessel was located on Wednesday, at a depth of 450 meters.

The circumstances of the sinking remain disputed. Survivors say their vessel was rammed by the Lebanese Navy, while the military claims the migrant boat collided with a naval vessel while trying to get away.

Scott Waters, who operated the submarine, told reporters in Tripoli on Friday that the first body they found was outside the wreck.

He said the crew identified six more bodies inside the sunken vessel and a substantial amount of debris around it. Some people who tried to escape the boat, he assumed, got “tangled in that debris.”

Mr Waters said the last image the crew took was of the remains of two people who died in each other's arms.

Tom Zreika, a Lebanese Australian and the chairman of charity AusRelief that helped bring the submarine to Lebanon, said the boat was a “fair degree under silt,” making it difficult to retrieve it.

Mr Zreika said the next task for Lebanon is raising the vessel, though that would be a difficult task.

Commander of the Lebanese Navy, Col Haitham Dinnawi, said the video footage taken by the submarine will be handed over to the judiciary as it investigates the sinking.

Tripoli MP Ashraf Rifi helped lease the submarine for cash-strapped Lebanon through Mr Zreika and his own brother, Jamal Rifi, who lives in Sydney.

Mr Rifi and Mr Zreika told The Sydney Morning Herald last month that an anonymous donor had given $295,000 to lease the submarine.

The April sinking was the greatest migrant tragedy for Lebanon in recent years and put the government further on the defensive at a time when the country is in the grip of a devastating financial collapse.

With a population of about six million people — including one million Syrian refugees — Lebanon has been mired since 2019 in an economic meltdown that has plunged three quarters of the population into poverty and led to widespread shortages of basic necessities.

Once a country that received refugees, Lebanon has become a launching pad for dangerous migration by sea to Europe.

Updated: August 26, 2022, 5:55 PM