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AFM gives account of search for fishermen

Simon Bugeja being treated on the rescue helicopter.

Simon Bugeja being treated on the rescue helicopter.

The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) has given a detailed account of its efforts to locate the fishinboat Simshar as soon as relatives of the crew reported it missing yesterday week.

The Simshar left Malta on Monday July 7 and had been due back last Friday week.

The AFM said its Operations' Centre initiated a communications search last Saturday evening at 7.35. Italian coast radio stations in the area were also requested to try to establish contact with the Maltese fishing vessel. An alert message was also broadcast to all shipping Meanwhile, an AFM aircraft which at the time was on coastal patrol and a patrol boat which was returning to Malta following an illegal immigrants' incident were alerted to keep a sharp look-out for the overdue fishing vessel.

As attempts to contact the Simshar by means of VHF-marine and satellite-telephone continued to be fruitless, the AFM Air Wing's Islander aircraft conducted a number of searches throughout Sunday, covering approximately 3,900 square nautical miles.

Italian Air Force AB212 helicopters from the Italian Military Mission (IMM) in Malta, a Tunisian search-helicopter, as well as Sigonella-based Italian Navy 'Atlantique' and US Navy 6th Fleet 'P3-Orion' aircraft joined the search on Sunday and subsequent days. No sightings were reported by this time. Both Libyan and Tunisian authorities were also requested to conduct enquiries at their respective ends if a Maltese fishing-vessel had entered one of their ports.

The search for the vessel had concentrated in the area between Malta and Lampedusa, and fishermen from Marsaxlokk also helped in the search operations.

"In this regard, the AFM denies certain reports in the local media aired today that it had restrained such search efforts by the local fishing-vessels. Operations' Centre staff, as a matter of fact, provided all navigational and likely sea-current and drift information to the Maltese fishermen involved, counseling them where best to conduct their surface searches. Given the 500-foot separation spacing between the various air assets involved, the fishermen were advised by the AFM not to act on their intent to hire out a private aircraft to assist in the search."

On Thursday at 2 a.m., the corpse of one of the fishing vessel's crew members, Noel Carabott, 33, from Marsaxlokk, was found some 60 nautical miles southwest of Malta by the fishing-vessel LAURA-2, and was later brought ashore by a Maritime Squadron patrol boat after a mid-sea transfer.

The search for the missing vessel continued in full force: on Friday at around 4.40 p.m., while conducting a search in the area where the first corpse was recovered on Thursday, an Italian Air Force AB212-helicopter of the IMM sighted a second corpse in a position 62 nautical miles south-west off Malta. The AFM's Protector-class patrol-craft P51 was immediately dispatched on site, as a local fishing-vessel which was already in the area - the 'Madonna tal-Karmnu', was directed to approach the corpse. It was subsequently ascertained that the corpse was of one of the other fishermen, Carmelo Bugeja, and it was brought to shore at Haywharf Base by P51 at 2.30 a.m. yesterday.

Later in the evening, at around 1955hrs, the AFM Operations Centre was informed by another fishing vessel - the 'Grecale', which was conducting a search to the southwest of Malta where two corpses had been found earlier, that Simshar's owner Simon Bugeja was found alive and had been recovered on board. After the AFM patrol boat P-51 reached the fishing-vessel, the casualty was winched at 9.15 p.m. onto an Italian Air Force AB212 rescue-helicopter that had been dispatched to the Grecale's location to evacuate Mr. Bugeja to Mater Dei Hospital.

At 3.35 p.m. yesterday the Alhaden-3 encountered a severely decomposed corpse of a foreign national in a position 63.4 nautical miles from Malta, and barely 2.4 nautical miles, due west from where the corpse of Carmelo Bugeja was retrieved. The corpse was recovered by AFM patrol-boat P-52.

The search is continuing for Theo Bugeja 11 and an Ethiopian fisherman while the identity of the corpse is established.

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