The Untold Story Of How A Lebanese Saved 300 People From A Sinking Ship

تراث بيروت Beirut Heritage

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Throughout the years, many Lebanese men and women were involved in true acts of courage. Today, you’ll discover the heroic story of Radwan Al Baltaji.

Radwan Al Balaji risked his own life to save the passengers of the SS Champollion.

The tragic disaster happened on board the French ship Champollion on January 23rd, 1952. The ship was carrying 328 Christian pilgrims who had spent Christmas in the Holy Land. It was on its way down the port of Beirut and drifted off the sores of Ouzai.

Amidst the high tides, Radwan Al Baltaji risked his life and defied the storm and the deadly waves to rescue the passengers, after eleven sailors and four passengers suffocated to death.

Al Baltaji defied the danger with courage and tried to save the passengers alone since the Lebanese state at the time was unable to do any rescue work, given its lack of rescue means.

As soon as Radwan al Baltaji heard the news, and despite all the warnings of the inevitable danger, he insisted to rescue the passengers himself, even though he was told that it was not possible to approach the ship since it was drowning along with all its passengers.

تراث بيروت Beirut Heritage

But Al Baltaji did not hesitate and operated in a very ingenious way.

He calculated and studied the movements of the waves and the movement of the sea current, and took his boat to where the Champollion was sinking, and began the rescue of the passengers.

His self-imposed rescue mission wasn’t an easy deed. It took him several failed attempts failed before he managed to save about 300 passengers.

The next day, many went to look at the Champollion and noticed that it had split in two.

Radwan al Baltaji’s photographs took the lead in the newspapers. His heroism made the headlines.

It also earned him a tribute from then-President Camille Chamoun and French General Charles de Gaulle.

He became a legend of a sort to which people referred when facing difficulties. “We want The Thug” became a commonly used statement when people needed help solving a problem.

Al Baltaji’s grandfather was a sailing guide from Sidon. His job became that of his children and grandchildren in Beirut and Tripoli.

Over time, the Al Baltaji family became experts in the depths, currents, and dangers of the sea as no one had ever known, and brilliantly guided lost ships to the ports.

According to Historian and Professor Abdellatif Fakhoury, when the French company committed to the construction and expansion of the port of Beirut, Faiq Pasha al-Turki told them that they should consult Ibrahim Khalil Al Baltaji, who was opposed to building the port where it is now, near St. Georges Hotel.

The name of Al Baltaji is the characteristic of boldness and courage that was known to the members of that family and their exploits during the Ottoman era and onward.

It is to note that the name now holds a pejorative meaning of thug as a description of those who commit acts contrary to the law.

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