The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Wednesday that an Israeli man who was among four people who drowned when a boat capsized in Italy’s Lake Maggiore had served in the Mossad spy agency.
The victim has been named by Italian media as 50-year-old Erez Shimoni, although his identity has not been announced by Israeli authorities.
In a brief statement, the PMO said that “due to his service in the organization, it is impossible to elaborate” on his activities.
“The Mossad lost a dear friend, a devoted and professional worker who for decades dedicated his life to the security of the State of Israel, even after his retirement,” it said. “The Mossad mourns the loss and shares in the family’s sorrow.”
Shimoni’s body was transported back to Israel for burial.
The admission came as Italian media cited new quotes from the skipper of the boat, who is suspected of negligent homicide.
The captain, Claudio Carminati, is a suspect due to the fact that the boat was carrying 23 passengers when it could only legally hold 15. His wife was among the dead.
Corriere della Sera on Wednesday quoted Carminati as saying, “It was 30 seconds, then the apocalypse came, the boat immediately capsized and we fell into the water.” He insisted that there was no prior warning that the weather would turn bad.
“I heard desperate shouts for help and saw many people swimming in the freezing water,” a witness, Franco Lora, was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
Media outlets were also delving into the supposed activities of the people on board the boat, with some outlets suggesting the official claim of a birthday party was covering up an operational meeting between Israeli and Italian intelligence agents.
Italy’s security service has admitted that two of the dead — a 62-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman — were its employees.
“The two employees, belonging to the intelligence department, were taking part in a convivial meeting organized to celebrate the birthday of one of the group,” it said in a statement.
The Corriere della Sera daily newspaper reported Tuesday that the gathering was a working meeting of intelligence agents. The newspaper said the Israelis had not initially planned to board the boat but did so after a meeting they were participating in went longer than expected and they missed their flight home.
According to reports, 19 out of the 23 people on board were serving or past Israeli and Italian agents.
“It was an opportunity to exchange information between agents of the two countries,” La Stampa reported.
Ten other Israelis were reportedly on the cruise and were said to have been quickly flown back to Israel on a private jet known to be used by Israeli authorities. Flight tracking sites showed the plane set off from Tel Aviv on Monday morning, arrive at Milan airport and soon set off back to Ben Gurion Airport. They reportedly did not wait to return the rented cars they were using during their trip.
AFP contributed to this report.