Cabinet Tuesday tasked the armed forces with investigating how an over packed migrant boat capsized, a tragedy some survivors have blamed on the military.
The government “tasked army command with conducting a transparent investigation into the circumstances behind the incident under the supervision of the relevant judicial authority,” said Information Minister Ziad Makari.
The announcement came after survivors took to TV stations and social media to accuse the military of insulting passengers aboard the ship and then deliberately cracking its hull.
President Michel Aoun said, during an emergency Cabinet session, that the judiciary must probe the tragic sinking of the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli due to the presence of “conflicting accounts of events.”
During the session that discussed the circumstances that led to the tragic sinking, the Army commander, the Navy commander and the head of the Military Intelligence branch briefed Cabinet over the incident.
The Army officials presented a report supported by documents and photos as media reports said they had been asked to attend the session, while al-Markazia news agency reported Tuesday that Army Commander General Joseph Aoun had expressed, in a phone call with Prime Minister Najib Miqati, his willingness to attend.
Miqati welcomed the initiative, al-Markazia said.
The circumstances that led the small and overloaded craft to sink were not entirely clear, with some survivors claiming the navy rammed into their boat, and officials insisting the smuggler attempted reckless escape maneuvers.
The sea accident, Lebanon’s worst such disaster in years, ignited widespread public anger just three weeks before May 15 parliamentary elections in the small country hit by a severe economic crisis.
The Lebanese army said Sunday that 48 people had been rescued, but it was not immediately clear exactly how many would-be asylum seekers were crammed onto the boat when it set off.
The migrant vessel had set off from the coastal town of Qalamoun on Saturday night. No precautionary measures were taken and no one was wearing life vests when the boat meant to carry only six people capsized later that night.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said the boat was carrying at least 84 people when it capsized about three nautical miles (3.5 miles, 5.5 kilometres) off the coast — which would leave some 30 people still unaccounted for.
Lebanon was once a transit point for asylum seekers from elsewhere in the Middle East who were hoping to reach the European Union island state of Cyprus, 175 kilometres (110 miles) away.
However, Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis that has plunged millions into poverty is driving growing numbers of its citizens to also attempt the perilous crossing.
The U.N. says more than 1,500 people have tried to leave Lebanon illegally by sea since the start of 2021.