Bodies of Indonesian 'ship of death' come home

November 01, 2013 12:44 AM
By Antoine Amrieh
The Daily Star

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Thirty-four bodies were returned home to north Lebanon Thursday from Indonesia, all casualties of the September shipwreck that left dozens of hopeful Lebanese emigrants to Australia stranded in the Indian Ocean.

Hundreds of mourning family members gathered at Rafik Hariri International Airport Thursday morning to receive the bodies, which the Lebanese government flew back to the country in a chartered Boeing 770.

A procession of ambulances carried the bodies from the airport to the north, where they were received as martyrs in their hometowns in Dinnieh, Qabeit, Berqayel, Majdala, Fnaydeq and Tripoli’s Qibbeh neighborhood.

Thursday’s ceremonies were marked by anger as much as sorrow, as family and friends of the deceased decried the economic, political and security conditions that pushed the victims to attempt the dangerous journey. Grieving communities also pleaded with battling parties in Tripoli to cease fighting Thursday and allow their love ones to be buried in peace.

Banners were lifted in Tripoli and towns across Akkar saluting the “heroes” who died in the shipwreck.

The ambulances reached Al-Salam roundabout in Tripoli around 3:30 p.m. The seven victims from Tripoli were carried on the shoulders of their relatives and buried in Al-Ramel cemetery.

Army units implemented strict security measures throughout the procession, which passed through Tripoli before dispersing toward the victims’ respective villages.

As the coffins passed through the embattled neighborhoods such as Beddawi, fighters halted their gunfire.

The bodies underwent DNA tests earlier this month and were accompanied at the airport by a delegation from Lebanon’s Higher Relief Council headed by the committee’s chairman, Ibrahim Bashir.

Zayd Bakkar Zakariya, Akkar’s mufti, was among political and religious officials who gathered at the airport.

Most of the victims hailed from Zakariya’s region in the north. He offered his condolences and commended the determination of the Lebanese people “whose family members travel abroad and occupy prominent employment positions that are lacking in Lebanon.”

In September, a boat carrying around 80 migrants, including children, foundered off the Indonesian coast while trying to illegally cross into Australia. Out of 53 Lebanese on board, just 18 survived. They returned home earlier this month. One Lebanese remains unaccounted for. The fate of the other passengers is not known.

President Michel Sleiman offered his condolences Thursday and said the tragic incident should serve as a catalyst for reform.

“This [accident] should act as an incentive ... to reform the political and economic situation in the country,” Sleiman said, according to a Baabda Palace statement.

“It should underscore the living conditions of the Lebanese people,” but discourage them from “following these victims’ method of seeking a livelihood,” he said.

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who was at the airport, praised the efforts by the president, caretaker prime minister and Parliament speaker in bringing the bodies back to Lebanon.

He expressed his grief over the tragic accident and said the smugglers involved were “known to the Lebanese judicial authority ... arrest warrants have been issued for those who escaped from the authorities.”

Development and Liberation MP Ali Bazzi joined families at the airport.

“What happened is a national tragedy which touched the hearts of all the Lebanese,” Bazzi said. “We have expressed our solidarity with the families of the victims since the first day, and we hope that this ship of death will be a lesson for more positivity, openness and wisdom.”

Separately, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati denied media reports that accused him of trying to delay the arrival of the coffins to the airport for political aims.

“It seems that certain parties have no [shame] anymore and no respect for anything, even the sacredness of death, and seek to exploit the blood and souls of the victims to express political grudges,” he said, according to a statement released by his office.

“Lebanese authorities, in line with Mikati’s instructions, rented a private jet to transport the bodies and asked the Indonesian authorities to facilitate the administrative measures so the airplane would arrive during the morning to allow the families of the victims to bury them during the day,” the statement added.


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