4 died when vessel overturned Sunday on Lake Maggiore

Report: Israeli, Italian secret agents were on ill-fated party boat to swap intel

Italian media claim yacht that capsized was not on simple birthday cruise, as authorities probe why vessel with capacity for 15 had over 20 on board; Israeli victim named

A vessel that sank on Lake Maggiore in Italy with four fatalities, May 28, 2023. (Italian fire and rescue services)
A vessel that sank on Lake Maggiore in Italy with four fatalities, May 28, 2023. (Italian fire and rescue services)

Two days after a tour boat capsized on an Italian lake, killing four people, including an Israeli man, local media on Tuesday continued to delve into what those on board were up to, with some outlets suggesting the official claim of a birthday party was covering up an operational meeting between Israeli and Italian intelligence agents.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has already said that the deceased Israeli man was a retired member of the security forces, while Italy’s security service has admitted that two of the others — a 62-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman — were 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 Israeli victim was named by Italian media as 50-year-old Erez Shimoni.

His body was being transported back to Israel for burial, Hebrew-language press reported early Wednesday.

Shimoni befriended the Italian officers after they were acquainted through their work, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

The fourth person who died, a Russian national, was reportedly the captain’s wife.

The Corriere della Sera daily newspaper reported that the gathering was a working meeting of intelligence agents.

In this image released by the Italian firefighters, a helicopter searches for missing passengers after a tourist boat capsized in a storm on Italy’s Lago Maggiore in the northern Lombardy region, May 28, 2023. (Vigili Del Fuoco via AP)

Other Italian outlets also suggested that the agents on the boat were up to something more than a celebration. 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.

The tour boat capsized on Italy’s Lake Maggiore on Sunday in strong winds. It reportedly set sail despite warnings of severe weather approaching. Italian authorities have stressed it sank due to the weather rather than an act of sabotage.

Authorities have also opened an investigation into the boat operators as it had a maximum capacity of 15, but at least 23 were on board.

Giovanni Buzzi, mayor of Sesto Calende, where the disaster happened, told Kan he did not think there was anything unusual going on other than the tragedy itself.

Buzzi said he did not know what the purpose of the boat meeting was, but “in my opinion, there is nothing unusual here beyond a serious tragedy, an accident, a simply horrible accident, but simply an accident.”

He said some of those on board were picked up by other watercraft while others managed to swim to the shore.

The president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, said Sunday that a “whirlwind” had caused the 16-meter (52-foot) long boat to overturn.

The names of the four victims, including the Israeli, were previously published by La Repubblica.

AFP contributed to this report.

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