Five French feared dead in Malta boat accident

Five French tourists were feared dead on Wednesday after their boat apparently capsized in stormy seas in Malta, where rescuers have recovered three unidentified bodies.

Five French feared dead in Malta boat accident
File photo of the coast of Gozo: Michael Borg (Fuji HS20EXR)/Flickr

US Navy and Italian coast guard aircraft joined in the increasingly desperate search for five French tourists off Gozo, one of three islands that make up the Maltese archipelago.

The five had been on their way back by boat on Sunday to their yacht, El Pirata, after dinner on shore during a Mediterranean cruise, witnesses said.

Rescuers said they had recovered the bodies of two women wearing life jackets on Tuesday and the body of a man on Wednesday and that they believe they are three of the five people missing.

The man's body was plucked from the water by a Maltese army helicopter in the area, where strong winds made the search more difficult.

The capsized boat has also been found.

"We are still in the process of identifying but we have no other reports of missing people," said a spokesman for Maltese military, which is in charge of coast guard operations in the island nation.

Maltese officials named the five as Marie Grimaud, 38, Philippe Grimaud, 41, Sandrine Gaudet, 36, Elias Chonouni, 49 and his 14-year-old son Eli.

The news website Malta Today reported that Malta is in contact with French authorities.

The yacht was moored off the picturesque village of Dwejra in Gozo. The alarm was raised on Monday by the yacht's skipper, a Spaniard, who had remained on board the vessel.

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Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

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Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.