Two months after the Tripoli boat incident, the only survivor of his family recounts how fast the sinking happened and how tragic it was. He lost his wife and his 3 children.
On April 23, 2022, a boat carrying around 80 travelers to Cyprus sank while attempting to leave Lebanon by sea. Lebanese army forces were able to rescue some people, while at least 8 were found dead. Many passengers are still missing with no news to date about their fate.
Two months after the tragic incident, one survivor states to CLDH’s legal aid team that after jumping into a boat in hopes of arriving at international territory, the Lebanese coast guards were pursuing to hit the boat while people were trying to escape. “After the second hit, the boat started sinking immediately, no one knew that the boat was damaged, we only realized it after it was filled with water and it sank in seconds”, he expressed.
The steps that led to the sinking
According to him, once the coast guards hit the boat for a second time, they went far away. The downstairs floor of the boat sank, full of women and children, leading to them drowning. “I was sitting upstairs and my brain did not comprehend that the boat was sinking”. He states that perhaps if the boat passengers knew about the damage of the boat, they could have done something to change the sad ending. The Lebanese coast guards did not do anything to save or help the people in the boat, they just left. The survivor addresses “after they hit us for the second time, they went far away, not too much, but to the point where there was no light anymore, it was pitch black. So we thought that they left us alone, we were relieved, we did not know that the boat was damaged, no one told us”.
The authorities arrested the captain of the boat accused of consciously overloading the boat and disregarding safety precautions, yet he was released a few days after.
On the other hand, survivor testimonies to media outlets stated that what caused the sinking was the stubbornness of the coastal guards and their attempt to stop the boat by hitting it. The Lebanese Army postulates that the ship was overloaded, and the captain was making evasive maneuvering that caused the collision. For this reason, the incident must be investigated to unveil the actual details of the incident.
Where is the investigation today?
The same day of the incident, as stated in CLDH’s previous article, the Lebanese army announced that the Lebanese Intelligence Directorate will be responsible to lead the investigation in accordance with the request of the Military Public Prosecutor, Fadi Akiki.
Considering the declarations made by the survivors which stated that the Lebanese navy was responsible for the sinking, it is important to consider an independent and impartial investigation, in which an entity other than the Military Intelligence Directorate investigates the case.
As if it didn't happen
Almost 2 months after the incident, the survivor said: “We have a WhatsApp group for the families of the victims, someone shared on it that a businessman from Germany is going to provide a submarine to help with the search, but we heard nothing from the authorities. My family is still missing”. He stresses that there is more help from outside the country than from the actual Lebanese government.
Negligence in the operation
To this day, many passengers are still missing. The authorities showed total disinterest and lack of seriousness in searching for the missing and confirming their numbers and identities.
It is important to highlight the arduous situation that refugees endured in this incident. The lack of legal protection, lack of residency and threats of deportation for Syrians, coupled with the socio-economic and political crisis in Lebanon, have led to an increase in sea smuggling routes, especially to Cyprus. According to UNHCR and IOM, since 2020 over 1,500 people have attempted dangerous sea journeys. Over 75% of those were intercepted or returned. Many of them have been illegally pushed back by Cyprus to Lebanon, including women and children, and some of them have been subsequently deported to Syria. According to UNHCR, so far in 2022, at least 64 people on board three boats deported from Lebanon, two of these boats were intercepted before departing. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the refugees have the “right to freedom of movement and the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.
In compliance with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Lebanese state in September 2003, “UNHCR’s primary responsibility in Lebanon is to support the Lebanese Government (GoL) in providing protection and assistance to refugees”. From here, and in response to the risk of setbacks, CLDH calls for:
The Republic of Cyprus to make public the content of the readmission agreement signed between Cyprus and Lebanon, and to provide access to territory, asylum, and adequate reception conditions to asylum seekers arriving by boat to Cyprus.
The European Commission to call on Cyprus to refrain from any violations of the principle of non-refoulement and to reveal the content of the Cyprus-Lebanon readmission agreement.
Public accountability and justice for the victims
A survivor shares his testimony while many other families are seeking justice today. In a country where accountability is far from reach; CLDH, as established before, re-stresses the call for:
A transparent and independent investigation revealing the reasons behind the sinking of the boat and verifying survivors´ testimonies, while ensuring that the investigation entity is not the army itself.
A public and official statement put forward by the government revealing the number of passengers in the boat, the missing and the dead.
A public, fair, and transparent trial in civil courts. The Military Intelligence Directorate should not be the responsible entity investigating the conduct of members of the Lebanese navy as it cannot be considered “independent and impartial”.Under the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death, “investigators and investigative mechanisms must be, and must be seen to be, independent of undue influence. They must be independent institutionally and formally, as well as in practice and perception, at all stages”.
We would also like to recall that ordinary criminal offenses committed by military personnel during service should be tried in ordinary courts. Military courts should be only used to try military personnel for breaches of military discipline, such as desertion and insubordination, excluding human rights violations and crimes under international law.