The four Uruguayans on board the livestock transport vessel that was lost Thursday night off the coast of Lebanon are among 39 of the 83 crew members and stockmen rescued in the midst of high seas and strong winds.
The rescue toll on Friday according to Lebanese authorities and United Nations officials from the peace keeping force in Lebanon (Unifil) also includes nine bodies and 35 crew members that remain missing, plus the presumed loss of the whole cargo of 17.000 cattle and 10.000 sheep.
The four Uruguayans were stockmen on board the Panamanian flagged Danny FII and are expected to be flown back to Montevideo on time for Christmas.
Helicopters and vessels from Unifil plus Lebanese vessels and British helicopters dispatched from Cyprus were involved in the massive rescue operation hindered by the storm and thousands of animal carcasses floating in the area.
Danny FII left Montevideo on November 29th with a full load of livestock on one of its regular trips to Middle East.
The ship's crew is mostly from the Philippines and Pakistan but there were at least one Lebanese and one Syrian on board, a port official in Tripoli said. The captain of the vessel is reportedly British.
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 said Unifil spokesman Andrea Tenenti.
The British military base at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus was also taking part in the rescue.
The cargo ship issued a distress call on Thursday afternoon, but had sunk before a Lebanese navy ship reached the area, a Lebanese army officer said.
Guillermo Ríos, 19, one of the Uruguayan survivors said that minutes before the vessel begun to list and turn over he was cleaning the decks.
“We jumped into the sea seconds before the vessel disappeared in the sea. I began swimming in the middle of oil and debris until I was able to hang onto a piece of wood”, said Ríos on a phone interview from Montevideo.
Without knowing how to swim he paddled as he could to a life raft which picked him up until a vessel came to their rescue several hours later. By that time “I was so exhausted that I was profoundly asleep”.
Guillermo said that the night before the crew had enjoyed a movie on board: “Titanic”.
“I simply couldn’t believe what was happening; I fixed my mind on my family and somehow I managed to hang on the piece of wood”.