TRIPOLI (Reuters) -Six people died when a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, including at least one child, Lebanese transport minister Ali Hamie told Reuters.
The small dinghy carrying around 60 people sunk off the coast on Saturday night with both Lebanese and Syrians aboard.
Hamie told Reuters that a young girl’s body was retrieved on Saturday night and that the army had recovered another five on Sunday morning.
The army had previously said the vessel had left the coast illegally. In a press conference on Sunday, it said naval forces had crashed into the dinghy as the smuggler in charge tried to evade the military.
“The Lebanese military saved at least 47 people, but we don’t know how many more are missing because we don’t know the total number of those aboard,” said Hamie.
Tensions were rising in Tripoli on Sunday as relatives of the victims gathered in agitated crowds outside hospitals where those hurt in the sinking were receiving treatment.
Mohammad Damnawi, a Lebanese man who survived the boat sinking, said he didn’t know if his wife and son had survived.
“I was with them. I managed to get out,” he said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a national day of mourning on Monday.
Powerful armed group Hezbollah issued its condolences in a statement, where it appealed for people to stay calm.
It urged people “to demonstrate a spirit of patience and national responsibility and stay away from acts of violence, sabotage and damage to internal security and stability.”
Lebanon’s economic crisis has seen the local currency lose more than 90 percent of its value and pushed waves of Lebanese as well as Syrian refugees to try the dangerous sea journey to Europe on small dinghies.
Lebanese citizen Kassem al-Zoeibi, whose relatives had survived the capsize, said they had tried to flee Lebanon out of desperation.
“Why did they chose this way? It is because there is no way but this way,” he told Reuters.
The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi expressed her condolences on Sunday and said UN agencies were on the ground to help.
“It’s horrific to see deprivation still pushing people to take a perilous journey across the seas, sacrificing their lives and that of their children in search of a dignified life,” Rochdi posted on Twitter.
(Reporting by Walid Saleh, Maya Gebeily and Laila BassamEditing by Mark Heinrich, Raissa Kasolowsky, Alexandra Hudson)