A 40-year-old Dutchman, residing in Malta, died in a tragic diving accident while inspecting a vessel at Malta Freeport yesterday, the police said.

The commercial diver, Raymond van Beek, who was married to a Maltese, had two young children and lived in Swieqi, was inspecting the bottom of the container vessel CMA CGM Verlaine when, for some unknown reason, one of its engines was started, sucking him into the propellor, the police said initially.

It was eventually established that Mr van Beek was surveilling the hull when one of the bough thrusters - powerful propellors situated on the side of the vessel to move it sideways - was activated either by someone or through some fault.

Sources said the inspection was a run-of-the-mill job, carried out every two years.

The diver's body was retrieved by the diving section of the Civil Protection Department, the sources said.

The accident occurred at about 9.30 a.m. and Birzebbuga district police were present at the site soon after.

Vessel agents Carmelo Caruana Co. Ltd said the German owners - the Hamburg-based NSB - of the 6,500 TEUs Verlaine, had appointed the diver to perform underwater inspections of the bottom of the ship with a video camera. A surveyor and another four persons were aboard a small launch, which was carrying other equipment, they said.

The agents said the exact cause of the accident was not yet known but pointed out that the diver was working close to the bough thrusters at the time, so "something must have gone wrong there".

Mr van Beek started the underwater inspections at 9.15 a.m. and the accident happened just 15 minutes later in a matter of seconds, the agents said.

NSB sent over company representatives last night to look into the incident, the agents said.

Duty Magistrate Miriam Hayman appointed a number of experts, including court expert Simon Micallef Stafrace and clinical forensic physician Mario Scerri, to assist her in the inquiry.

Divers from the Expolsive Ordnance Disposal section of the Armed Forces of Malta were on site should the duty magistrate require their assistance, while a patrol boat was used to seal off the area.

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