The death toll from a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon that sank in Syrian waters has risen to 60, the governor of Syria’s coastal province of Tartus said Friday.
Abdul-Halim Khalil told the pro-government Sham FM that search is ongoing for more bodies off his country’s coast.
Khalil said the boat sank two days earlier.
Lebanon’s caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh meanwhile said that more than 100 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat. He added that 19 people were rescued and several others remain unaccounted for.
Of those rescued, five were Lebanese, he said.
“I am discussing with Syria’s transport minister a mechanism to retrieve the corpses from Syria,” Hamieh told AFP, adding that search and rescue efforts continued.
The death toll is the highest from a migrant boat journey from Lebanon in recent years.
Lebanon, which since 2019 has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a launchpad for illegal migration.
Last year Lebanon saw a spike in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt the perilous crossing in overcrowded boats to reach Europe.
Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s main ports, and lies some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, where the passengers had initially boarded.
In April, the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat pursued by the Lebanese navy off the northern coast of Tripoli killed dozens of people, sparking anger in the country.
The circumstances of that incident were not entirely clear, with some on board claiming the navy rammed their vessel, while officials insisted the smugglers attempted reckless escape maneuvers.
Many of the bodies were never recovered.
On September 13, Turkey’s coastguard announced the death of six migrants, including two babies, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe, off the coast of the southwestern province of Mugla.
They had reportedly boarded from Tripoli in Lebanon in an attempt to reach Italy.
Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member Cyprus, an island 175 kilometers away to the west.
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.