TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AP) — Survivors and families of the victims of a sunken migrant boat off the coast of Lebanon on Thursday said they have filed a lawsuit accusing the military of detaining two missing survivors.
The boat that sank in April carried dozens of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians trying to migrate by sea to Italy. It went down more than five kilometers (three miles) from the port of Tripoli, following a confrontation with the country’s navy.
Survivors say the Lebanese navy rammed their vessel, while the military claims the migrants’ boat collided with one of their ships while trying to get away. The captain of a submarine mission last week said they found the remains of at least 10 migrants and the wreckage of the sunken boat with dents and damages.
Now, the survivors say the army has been holding two survivors who have been missing since the night of the sinking and has refused to reveal footage of the wreckage from the submarine mission. They also say the military barred them from attending a press conference with the submarine’s captain and navy officials.
The military says the investigation is ongoing and the footage from the submarine investigation has been transferred to the military probe.
“We’ve been waiting for you and the state for four months throughout this whole turmoil,” Amid Dandachi, a survivor of the doomed boat whose three children and wife drowned, said at the news conference. “I challenge you to show us the videos of the pursuit of the boat.”
Ten bodies were recovered the night the boat sank — including one of a child — while 48 survivors were pulled from the Mediterranean. According to navy estimates, 30 people were believed to have gone down with the boat.
The wreck remains some 450 meters (about 1,470 feet) below the surface.
The survivors’ lawyers have blasted the authorities’ sluggish investigation. Diala Chehade, one lawyer representing the survivors and victims’ families, urged authorities to retrieve its wreckage.
“A key reason of the submarine mission was to try to recover what remains from the bodies so their loved ones can mourn them in dignity and pray for their souls,” Chehade said at the press conference. “But there is also another key reason, which is to find and retrieve the drowned boat and forensically examine it.”
Chehade also called for transferring the probe from the military tribunal to a civic court, claiming it would be more transparent and impartial for such a case.
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 economic free fall and public trust in the state and its institutions is rapidly crumbling.
With a population of about 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon has been mired since 2019 in an economic meltdown that has plunged three quarters of the population into poverty.
Once a country that received refugees, Lebanon has become a launching pad for dangerous migration by sea to Europe. As the crisis deepened, more Lebanese, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees have set off to sea, with security agencies reporting foiled migration attempts almost weekly.