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Fishermen mum on Simshar tragedy report

Flags were flown at half mast when the bodies of Karmenu Bugeja, Noel Carabott and Abdulrahman Abdalla Gedi were found.

Flags were flown at half mast when the bodies of Karmenu Bugeja, Noel Carabott and Abdulrahman Abdalla Gedi were found.

Marsaxlokk fishermen were reluctant to comment about the report on the Simshar tragedy that among other things pointed fingers at their "unacceptable" inability to use safety equipment.

Although many were already out fishing at 8 a.m., those who were cleaning their nets at Marsaxlokk Bay refused to speak about the matter.

"We don't even know what the report says," one fisherman said. "And, anyway, I believe Simon," another said, referring to the sole survivor and captain of the Simshar, Simon Bugeja.

The report, drawn up by lawyer Ann Fenech, criticised the fishermen's "cavalier attitude" towards safety and said the situation could no longer be tolerated.

The same report, concluded that Mr Bugeja could not activate three safety devices the Simshar was equipped with and which would have saved the lives of all four people who perished in the tragedy.

The four victims included Mr Bugeja's 11-year-old son Theo, his 61-year-old father Karmenu and another two fishermen, Noel Carabott and Somali national Abdulrahman Gedi, aged 33 and 21 respectively.

The Simshar is said by Mr Bugeja to have exploded, throwing everybody overboard. They all started to die one by one before Mr Bugeja was rescued after spending more than a week drifting on a makeshift raft.

The harrowing story shook the seaside village and its community of fishermen but many were reluctant to share their thoughts.

The only one to speak was an elderly fisherman going through his nets and who took exception to the report's conclusions about the health and safety knowhow of Maltese seamen.

"They think we are stupid, that we don't know how to operate these things," he lamented. "Even though many fishermen don't know how to read or write it doesn't mean we don't know how to use these things. Why doesn't the person who wrote the report come and speak to us," he asked.

Accidents happen, people could crash with their car any time, he added.

Dr Fenech noted in her report that fishermen needed to be trained in how to use safety equipment. She said fishermen should immediately be trained in the aspect of health and safety and also appealed for a safety campaign among pleasure boat owners.

Fisheries Cooperative president Ray Bugeja has said his organisation had been asking the authorities for a basic hands-on safety course for fishermen for years.

Tragedy timeline

Monday, July 7, 2008.
Simon Bugeja leaves Marsaxlokk port at about 5 a.m. for a fishing trip with his father Karmenu, his son Theo, Noel Carabott and Somali Abdulrahman Abdala Gedi.

Wednesday, July 9.
Mr Bugeja sent his wife Sharon a text message on the satellite phone asking her for the weather report from Lampedusa. She replies and also asks whether Theo is enjoying himself.

Thursday, July 10.
The vessel monitoring system sends out the only signal indicating the Simshar's last and only known position at 8.12 p.m.

Friday, July 11.
Simshar is expected back from its fishing trip. But, according to Mr Bugeja, an explosion occurs at about 1 p.m. tearing the boat apart.

Saturday, July 12.
Mrs Bugeja reports Simshar as missing at 7.20 p.m. and 15 minutes later the AFM launch a search after informing Lampedusa, Malta and Palermo radio. When asked for a picture of the Simshar, Mrs Bugeja says she is not worried because they had recast their nets.

Sunday, July 13.
Mrs Bugeja calls the army at 6 a.m. and says she will not worry before 5 p.m. because they were recasting their nets. She tells the army not to do anything. However, they still send out a plane. Later, Ms Bugeja tells them she tried to contact her husband with a satellite phone. Stefania Carabott calls the army as she is worried about her husband and insists on a full search operation.

Tuesday, July 14.
Italian navy ship and Marsaxlokk fishermen join the search for the crew.

Thursday, July 17.
Fishing vessel Laura II finds Noel Carabott's body.

Friday, July 18.
A helicopter spots the body of Karmenu Bugeja. Soon after, at 7.50 p.m., the fishing vessel Grecale finds Mr Bugeja alive.

Saturday, July 19.
The Grecale finds the body of Abdulrahman Abdalla Gedi.

Monday, July 21.
The search for the young boy continues.

Thursday, July 24.
Transport Minister Austin Gatt appoints lawyer Anne Fenech to carry out a preliminary investigation into the case and make her recommendations in terms of the Merchant Shipping Act.

Friday, July 25.
Fishermen lease a plane to carry out a separate search for the boy.

Monday, July 28.
The search for the boy is called off.

Wednesday, July 30.
Mr Carabott's funeral is held at Marsaxlokk parish church.

Thursday, July 31.
Mr Bugeja's funeral is held at Marsaxlokk.

Friday, August 1.
The funeral of Mr Gedi is held.

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