The French couple Elias Chmouni and Sandrine Godet, who were among the five tourists tragically lost at sea on Sunday night, have left behind a five-month-old son and a three-year-old daughter.
The two children, Simon and Clara – orphaned overnight – were staying with their grandfather, the father of Ms Godet, in Paris for the holiday week, Times of Malta has learnt.
Foreigners sometimes do not realise the dangers of the Mediterranean Sea
The body of their 36-year-old mother was found at Fomm ir-Riħ on Tuesday. Sources said another body recovered on Wednesday off the south coast of Comino was likely to be that of the father, Elias Chmouni, owner of the four-metre boat last seen leaving Xlendi Bay around midnight on Sunday.
The couple, together with Dani, 14, Mr Chmouni’s son from his first marriage, and friends Philippe and Marie Grimaud had their last photo taken as they lowered the tender down to the water on Sunday evening. It was snapped by the skipper of the 60-foot yacht El Pirata, on which they were cruising.
According to police sources, the bodies of Ms Godet and Ms Grimaud, also found close to Fomm ir-Riħ, were extremely battered.
The AFM last night said the search was still on for the other missing man and teenager.
The El Pirata’s skipper, Juan Carlo Montes, told Times of Malta that, when the cabin cruiser anchored in Dwejra Bay on Sunday at noon, in accordance with their itinerary, the weather was “perfect”.
That evening Mr Chmouni decided to celebrate his 49th birthday with dinner in a restaurant at Xlendi Bay, the next bay after Dwejra. Mr Montes, 65, from Palma, who has worked at sea for most of his life, suggested they berth the El Pirata at Mġarr Harbour and then catch a taxi to a restaurant.
“But he did not want to move the yacht, preferring to take the small boat instead to go to shore,” said Mr Montes. “He insisted that I join them but I refused – I could not leave the cruiser unattended, out of sight.”
Armed with life jackets and a lantern, the five set off towards land at about 8pm. “The sea was unbelievably calm at that time,” said Mr Montes.
Mr Chmouni, who holds a top managerial position in an engineering company in France, was manning the engine. The skipper described him as “quite experienced” about sea matters and a “very responsible” man.
“He’s driven boats before,” he said.
Later that evening, there was a sudden change in weather. The Met Office in Luqa registered northwesterly winds reaching up to force six.
In Dwejra Bay, Mr Montes weighed anchor and from midnight to 5am he was constantly on the yacht’s stern trying to keep the El Pirata from crashing against the rocks.
“I could not let go to call Elias but I was sure that with such weather he would spend the night on land.”
At dawn, he felt he had enough light to leave Dwejra and seek the safety of Mġarr. That was when he started calling Mr Chmouni – and his phone records show that he did this continuously.
“No one was answering – still I did not think that they would be anywhere but in a hotel,” he said.
The El Pirata sailed to Mgarr Harbour, riding rough seas, at about 7am. Mr Montes dropped anchor outside the port, phoned the Gozo marine office and asked them to inform Mr Chmouni, should he call, that the El Pirata was in Mġarr.
He decided to call for help to berth the boat (the Boston Whaler needs two men to moor it) when, by late morning, Mr Chmouni had still not returned.
Early in the afternoon he registered the boat, applying for two nights, and filed a report with the Mġarr police that five people were missing.
“But I still kept expecting Elias to turn up and tell me that they were fine,” he said, visibly distraught and failing to understand why they had decided to return to the yacht in such atrocious weather.
He had known Mr Chmouni since December 2011. Last September, Mr Chmouni bought the yacht off him but still asked him to captain it for long trips. Their next stop after Dwejra was going to be Lampedusa.
Louis Attard, from Xlendi, said that Wardija Point, between Xlendi and Wardija, “is feared of all Xlendi fishermen”.
“Foreigners sometimes do not realise the dangers of the Mediterranean Sea,” he said.
Two inquiries are being carried out, one by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, and another by the Transport Authority on safety issues.
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