DAMASCUS/BEIRUT: The bodies of 53 people have been recovered off the coast of Syria, the Lebanese transport minister said on Friday, increasing the death toll from an ill-fated migrant voyage from Lebanon to Europe earlier this week.
Syrian authorities began finding bodies in the sea off the coast of Tartus on Thursday afternoon. Authorities have not yet said what happened to the boat.
The incident is one of the deadliest since a surging number of Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians have tried to flee crisis-hit Lebanon by sea to Europe.
In Lebanon alone, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and the Lebanese pound has dropped more than 90 percent of its value, eradicating the purchasing power of thousands of families that now live in extreme poverty.
Syrian state media quoted one survivor as saying the boat carried over 150 people, which would leave over 100 migrants still missing at sea.
Tartus Governor Abdulhalim Khalil has reportedly visited the 20 survivors at the hospital.
It was not immediately clear how many people were aboard and where exactly they were heading, but coast guards are still searching for bodies.
State media gave no further details but quoted some of the survivors as saying that they sailed from the Lebanese coastal town of Minyeh several days ago apparently aiming to reach Europe. It said the boat was carrying people of different nationalities.
Thousands of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians have left Lebanon on boats over the past months seeking better opportunities in Europe.
Lebanon has a population of 6 million, including 1 million Syrian refugees, and has been in the grips of a severe economic meltdown since late 2019 that has pulled over three-quarters of the population into poverty.
In April, a boat carrying dozens of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians trying to migrate by sea to Italy went down more than five kilometers (three miles) from the port of Tripoli, following a confrontation with the Lebanese navy. Dozens were killed in the incident.
Migrants have been leaving the country from the northern Lebanese coast that is the most impoverished region in the small country.
On Thursday, Lebanese officials said naval forces rescued a boat carrying 55 migrants after it faced technical problems six nautical miles (7 miles) off the coast of the northern region of Akkar. It said the people rescued included two pregnant women and two children.