The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

The Simshar Tragedy: Search for missing boy continues

Malta Independent Monday, 21 July 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

The fishing village of Marsaxlokk, and indeed much of the country, was still in mourning yesterday over the tragic fate of three fishermen who lost their lives after a freak explosion sunk their vessel.

In the meantime, a frantic search for the last passenger unaccounted for, 11-year-old Theo Bugeja, continued yesterday with the participation of fishing vessels from Marsaxlokk and other ports, as well as the that Armed Forces of Malta and the Italian forces, the latter of which yesterday had deployed two helicopters and an Atlantique

aircraft.

Sadly, the search was yet to yield any results as of the time of going to print last night.

Theo would have been adrift for some 10 days today and alone since slipping from his father’s side on Friday morning.

The AFM, a spokesperson confirmed, yesterday extended its search to include both air and sea assets.

The AFM has been harshly criticised by fishermen over the last days for not having deployed sea-based assets earlier on in the search.

The AFM has also categorically rebutted claims it had ordered fishermen to stay clear of the search area, roughly 60 nautical miles southwest of Malta. Staff from the AFM’s Operations Centres, the AFM said in a statement, had provided all possible navigational and likely sea current and drift information for Maltese fishermen aiming to pitch their lot in with the search effort. The AFM said it had also advised fishermen where to best perform surface searches.

The only point at which the AFM had restrained fishermen, it added, was when it advised them not to act on their intention to hire a private aircraft to conduct searches, as such action, the AFM deemed, could have proved dangerous given the 500-foot spacing between the various air assets deployed by the Maltese and Italian forces.

The 12-metre vessel, the Simshar, had been carrying a crew of five – Simon Bugeja, his father Carmelo, his 11-year-old son Theo, Noel Carabott and Somali fisherman Abdulrahman Abdala Gedi.

The vessel had left the fishing village of Marsaxlokk on 7 July and had been expected back in port on 11 July. The last contact with the missing vessel had been established as far back 9 July.

While Simon Bugeja was brought ashore alive on Friday night, the corpses of his father Carmelo and Noel Carabott were recovered, also on Friday. The body of Abdulrahman Abdala Gedi was meanwhile recovered on 19 July and was identified

yesterday.

While speculation over the vessel’s fate had been rampant, the facts of the fishermen’s horrific ordeal became clear once Simon Bugeja, presumed to be the expedition’s sole survivor, was, somewhat miraculously, found alive.

According to Simon Bugeja’s account, an explosion had ripped through the Simshar in the early morning hours of Friday, 11 July as the vessel was making its way back to port. The explosion is thought to have resulted from a mechanical fault in the vessel’s freezer.

All crew members survived the blast, but found themselves adrift without a life raft. Instead, Mr Bugeja told rescuers, he had fashioned together floating debris into a makeshift raft and advised his fellow victims not to drink sea water – advice which, unfortunately, was only followed by his son Theo.

One by one, Mr Bugeja watched as first Mr Gedi lost his life on 12 July, followed by his friend Noel Carabott on 13 July, and then Mr Bugeja’s 61-year-old father Carmelo on 14 July.

With only his son left alive, Bugeja watched helplessly on Thursday 17 July as a helicopter approached the pair but failed to spot them despite his desperate attempts to draw attention to them by waving a cloth in the air.

He last saw his son alive on the morning of Friday 18 July, but, with all his strength sapped from the ordeal, had only been able to watch as Theo had apparently slipped from the float into the water. Mr Bugeja recounts having tied pieces of polystyrene, used to keep fishing nets afloat, to his son’s hands to keep him above water as he had done with his father.

As such there is still hope, albeit slight, of finding the child alive.

The tragedy has gripped the tightly knit fishing village of Marsaxlokk, from where all the victims, with the exception of Mr Gedi, hail. The village’s festa, scheduled for 3 August, has been cancelled in respect for the deceased.

Funerals for the deceased, which are expected to be held separately, are expected to begin being held tomorrow.

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