BEIRUT: The Lebanese Navy received on Thursday a boat rescued by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The boat was carrying 32 Syrians and one Lebanese. The incident was linked to a similar one around three weeks ago, against a backdrop of increased maritime people smuggling, Lebanon’s military told Arab News.
UNIFIL said in a statement that its Maritime Task Force “participated in a search and rescue operation at sea after receiving reports on Wednesday of a missing boat off the coast of Lebanon.”
The statement added: “UNIFIL was informed that a small boat, allegedly heading toward Cyprus, was missing. UNIFIL tasked its Maritime Force to locate the missing vessel.”
It said: “UNIFIL’s flagship, BRS Liberal, found a small white boat northwest of Beirut in the area of responsibility of Rescue Coordinator Center Beirut.”
According to UNIFIL, “there were 32 passengers on board: 19 men, six women and seven children. The boat was out of fuel and the passengers had been without food and water for four days.”
The statement said: “While waiting for the Lebanese Navy to arrive, UNIFIL naval peacekeepers distributed water and food, and provided medical assistance.”
It added: “After the Lebanese Navy arrived at the scene, the passengers were able to board the Lebanese patrol boats and arrived at Beirut port on Friday, escorted by UNIFIL.”
UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said this was the first time that the interim force had carried out such a mission at sea.
“This task isn’t within the mandate given to us by the (UN) Security Council as per resolution 1701, but international maritime laws allow us to carry out this mission,” he told Arab News.
“UNIFIL has seven ships roaming Lebanese waters. One of them received a signal from the boat and traced its location, and UNIFIL communicated with Lebanese authorities in this regard.”
The Directorate of Orientation of the Lebanese Army Command said in a statement that the passengers “underwent a medical examination by military medical teams and the Lebanese Red Cross, and investigations started under the supervision of the competent judiciary.”
A Lebanese military source said the Lebanese man on board was “the one sailing toward Cyprus. The boat set off from an illegal point on the northern Lebanese coast.”
Some three weeks ago, the Lebanese Navy rescued 39 people on board a boat that carried them from an illegal point in northern Lebanon toward Cyprus but sank in Lebanese waters.
A naval patrol retrieved the body of a 5-year-old Palestinian boy and rescued the others, most of them Syrian and Palestinian refugees from Nahr Al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon.