Cargo ship with 83 on board sinks sparking major rescue operation
Lebanese naval forces and a UN force posted in Lebanon have launched a major rescue mission after a cargo ship with 83 crew members on board capsized off the Lebanese coast in stormy weather Thursday.
AFP - Lebanese and UN officials launched a major rescue operation on Thursday after a boat with 83 crew aboard capsized in a storm off the tiny Mediterranean country's northern coast, officials said.
The Panamanian-flagged ship Danny Two, which was transporting livestock from Uruguay to the Syrian port of Tartous, overturned some 11 nautical miles off the port of Tripoli at around 7:30 pm (1730 GMT), the officials said.
Lebanese navy rescue boats, including a medical team, rushed to the scene of the disaster along with three vessels from the United Nations force stationed off Lebanon (UNIFIL).
"Three maritime task force ships, one Italian and two German, were dispatched about 10 nautical miles off the coast of Tripoli after the Lebanese navy received a distress call from a Panamanian-flagged ship," UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti told AFP.
"Preliminary information indicates the ship sank with 83 people aboard."
A port official in Tripoli told AFP that at least 23 crew members had been rescued, 16 of them by a Syrian ship, some two hours after the accident.
Tenenti said UNIFIL had rescued six people.
A Lebanese rescue official said one of those saved was from the Philippines and another was a Pakistani.
"They were very scared and cold when we pulled them out of the water," he told AFP.
Ambulances were seen rushing out of Tripoli's port area to nearby hospitals.
All of the livestock on board the ship was presumed dead, the port official said, adding that many of the stricken vessel's crew were from the Philippines and Pakistan. They also included at least one Lebanese and one Syrian.
The rescue official said there was hope of saving more sailors as the conditions had improved by late evening.
"If the sea remains calm we hope to find more survivors," he said. "But if the storm kicks up again then they have little chance of surviving for more than an hour in the water."
Officials said the Danny Two had been heading to Tartous, north of Tripoli, before being forced to change course because of the bad weather. It was trying to reach the Lebanese capital Beirut when it capsized.
A British military base in Cyprus, at RAF Akrotiri some 240 kilometres (150 miles) almost due west of Tripoli, was also aiding the rescue.
"We've scrambled one helicopter from 84 Squadron but because of the distance from (Akrotiri) base it will be operating out of Larnaca," British Forces Cyprus spokesman Stuart Bardsley told AFP.
"The helicopter is not equipped to winch at night but we provide a searchlight facility to lead the boats where there are life rafts."
Bardsley said the rescue effort is being led by the United Nations.
"There is a German and Italian warship at the scene and the weather is apparently horrendous out there," he said.
Thursday's accident came as severe thunderstorms lashed Lebanon, causing heavy flooding in some parts of the country and widespread damage.
A Togolese-flagged ship also sank off the southern coast of Lebanon last week. Several crew members were rescued by Israel but a number are still missing.
UNIFIL has some 13,000 troops from various countries stationed in southern Lebanon.
The force, established in 1978 to monitor the Lebanon-Israel border, was considerably beefed up in the wake of the 2006 war between the militant Shiite group Hezbollah and Israel.