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Magisterial inquiry opened

The Simshar

The Simshar

A magisterial inquiry is underway to determine what led to the sinking of the Simshar and the death of three of the people on board, The Times has learnt.

Magistrate Joseph Apap Bologna has appointed a number of court experts to help him with the inquiry that will look into what led to the Simshar tragedy that has resulted in the death of Noel Carabott, 33, Carmelo Bugeja, 61, and Somali national Abdulrahman Abdala Gedi, 21.

The boat owner, Simon Bugeja, was the only survivor as the search for his 11-year-old son, Teo, continues. Mr Bugeja told his rescuers the boy had died.

The inquiry was opened after the first body - eventually identified as belonging to Mr Carabott - was found late on Thursday.

The Malta Maritime Authority is cooperating with the judicial authorities in the magisterial inquiry, a government spokesman said.

Post-mortem examinations on the bodies found confirmed that all three men died by drowning. Mr Gedi also suffered burns.

So far, the only clues regarding what led to the tragedy, that has been described as Malta's worst fishing disaster, were the accounts given by Mr Bugeja, 31, to his rescuers. Over the weekend he was reported as having said that there had been a huge explosion on board. Mark Bugeja, the captain of the Grecale, who spotted the survivor on a makeshift raft and recovered him from the water late last Friday afternoon, said Simon Bugeja told them the Simshar sank after a big fire that started in the engine room.

The Simshar's crew had set out on a fishing trip on July 7 and were due to be back on land by July 11. When they failed to show up by the following evening, concerned relatives raised the alarm and intensive searches, led by the Armed Forces with the cooperation of fishermen, were launched.

As the story unfolded, the AFM was criticised for not having found the Simshar's crew sooner. Asked whether an internal inquiry would be held, an AFM spokesman said that an After Action Review (AAR) was conducted after each and every search and rescue mission. This was done to ensure that operations were perfected and lessons were learnt.

The former secretary of the Fisheries Cooperative, Martin Caruana, listed a variety of reasons why a public inquiry should be held. He pointed out that although it seemed that the Simshar's VMS (vessel monitoring system) and satellite phone connection signals were terminated abruptly on Thursday evening, this had not been picked up by the Fisheries Department. This eventually resulted in a delay in the commencement of the rescue operations.

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