Dozens of Lebanese Illegal Migrants Drown, 18 Rescued while Trying to Sail from Indonesia to Australiaإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
At least 60 Lebanese migrants drowned on Friday as they attempted to sail from Indonesia to Australia, reported Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3).
It said that no more than ten people survived the trip between the two countries and the corpses of the victims began to wash ashore on one of the Indonesian islands.
Later on Friday, Indonesian police said at least 22 people, mostly children, drowned and scores are missing after an Australia-bound boat carrying Middle Eastern asylum-seekers sank off Indonesia Friday in rough seas.
Twenty-five people were plucked to safety but about 75 were unaccounted for after the boat carrying people from Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen went down off the main Indonesian island of Java, police said.
Lebanese Charge d'Affaires in Indonesia Joanna Qazzi told LBCI television: “The ferry sank as a result of a malfunction and so far 15 bodies of victims from different nationalities have been recovered.”
Qazzi later told caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour that, according to the Indonesian authorities, 18 Lebanese were among the 25 survivors.
Warsono, a police official in Cianjur district on Java, said the bodies were discovered floating in an estuary on Friday morning.
"We have now found 22 dead bodies, most of them are children as they cannot swim," he said. "The dead bodies were swept ashore by big waves."
The official, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said it was dangerous for rescue boats due to "big waves" and the boat had been "broken into several pieces."
A spokesman for the Indonesian search and rescue agency said that four of its boats, along with fishing boats, had earlier been searching for the missing.
The search had been called off when it got dark and would resume again on Saturday, he said.
Warsono said that the boat was believed to have been carrying 120 people when it went down and had been heading for the Australian territory of Christmas Island.
They had departed from the fishing town of Pelabuhan Ratu, in the district of Sukabumi, on the south coast of western Java, he said.
President Michel Suleiman carried out a number of contacts over the sinking upon his return to Lebanon from New York where he took part in the United Nations General Assembly.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati later contacted the general secretary of the Foreign Ministry Ambassador Wafiq Ruhaimi, urging him to carry out the necessary diplomatic contacts over the sinking.
He stressed the need for the Indonesian authorities to uncover the causes of the sinking and the fate of the migrants.
Miqati later asked Charge d'Affaires Qazzi to head to the port from which the boat had departed in order to follow up on the rescue operations, assist the Lebanese survivors and facilitate the transfer of the bodies to Beirut.
VDL revealed that the victims had tasked a person, known as Abu Saleh, to ensure their safe passage to Australia in exchange for about $10,000 per person.
Their ferry sank however as it attempted to sail to Australia.
Abu Saleh has since been arrested.
The National News Agency reported Friday that the majority of the victims hail from the northern region of Akkar, particularly the town of Qabeit.
It said that some 15 Lebanese families were on board the vessel that sank as it was sailing to Australia.
It added that the families of the migrants had been frantically contacting loved ones abroad in order to determine the fate of those on board.
They have also urged the Foreign Ministry to contact Lebanese embassies in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia to verify the sinking.
NNA added that a number of Lebanese migrants had been resorting to sailing to Australia from Indonesia.
Abu Ali, one of the survivors later told LBCI: “Some 73 people were on board the ferry, the majority of whom were Lebanese.”
“There are only 17 survivors,” he revealed.
One Lebanese man escaped from the sinking boat by swimming to an island -- but he believes his eight children and pregnant wife were killed, according to a Lebanese mayor.
Hussein Khodr called people in his home village of Qabeit "and told them that the boat sank at dawn, when waves destabilized the vessel," said Ahmed Darwish, the head of Qabeit's municipality.
Darwish said it was not the first time that people from the poor region had sought to reach Australia by boarding rickety asylum-seeker boats in Indonesia.
“I learned of the disaster from a resident of the (Akkar) town of Fnaydeq, whose son was rescued after the sinking of the boat,” Darwish said, adding that the man's fiancee Sarab Abdul Hayy was killed in the incident.
“Two families from the town (of Qabeit) were on the boat when it started its journey on Monday: the family of Hussein Ahmed Khodr, whose nine members drowned except for the father, and the 5-member family of Asaad Ali Asaad who all drowned in the tragedy, in addition to Manal Ali Ahmed, Toufic Hamze, Mohammed Khodr Shdid, Bassam Khodr Othman and Ibtisam Khodr Othman – who are all uncounted for,” Darwish declared, noting that “the fate of everyone has not been determined in a decisive and final manner.”
In the wake of the tragedy, caretaker FM Mansour telephoned the ministry's Director General of Emigrants Haitham Jomaa and tasked him to launch contacts to follow up on the situation.
He also asked Charge d'Affaires Qazzi to communicate with the Indonesian authorities. The Lebanese envoy informed him that she will head Saturday to the accident's site to follow up closely on the developments.
Hundreds of asylum-seekers from around the world have died in recent years trying to make the treacherous sea crossing from Indonesia to Australia on rickety, wooden boats.
They normally pay people-smugglers huge sums to make the crossings, and almost always head for Christmas Island, which is far closer to Indonesia than it is to the Australian mainland.