It reads like a pitch for a thriller.
A group of tourists board a boat on a beautiful lake at the foot of the Alps. The boat capsizes in a sudden storm. Four drown as others swim to safety. In the days that follow, as authorities struggle to trace hotel bookings for the passengers, it emerges all were affiliated with the Italian and Israeli secret services.
Five days after Gooduria, a 16-metre houseboat, was swallowed up by Lake Maggiore, there is growing speculation over what its passengers were doing in this corner of northern Italy.
On Thursday, a police source working on the investigation confirmed that eight of the boat’s 21 passengers either currently or formerly served with Italy’s secret service, and 13 had ties with Israel’s.
Two of the victims – Claudio Alonzi (62), and Tiziana Barnobi (53) – had worked for the Italian intelligence authority. Another was a 50-year-old retired agent with Israel’s Mossad spy agency. The fourth was Anya Bozhkova, originally from Russia who was crewing the boat along with her Italian husband, Claudio Carminati, the boat’s skipper. Carminati is being investigated over the deaths.
Carminati and Bozhkova, who was reportedly unable to swim, ran a company called Love Lake and provided a “boat and breakfast” service on Gooduria, which only had a capacity for 15 passengers.
The group boarded the boat, which was registered in the Netherlands, at the Piccaluga shipyard in Lisanza on Sunday morning for what was reported to have been a birthday celebration.
The police source said the group toured the Borromean islands, an archipelago on the western side of the lake, and stopped off for lunch on Isola Pescatori (Fishermen’s island). The boat capsized in a sudden and violent storm on the lake on Sunday evening, with the survivors either swimming to shore or being pulled to safety by other vessels.
The investigation is only looking into the skipper’s role in the accident and not the background of the agents or why they were in the area.
Reports in the Italian press alleged that the group had met for work reasons, “to exchange information and documents” and that they only stayed on for a couple of days of leisure after the Israelis missed their flights home.
One theory, reported by Corriere della Sera, is that the agents were in Lake Maggiore to spy on Russian oligarchs, who have reportedly been buying villas and hotels in the area, circumventing the EU’s financial sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine by funnelling money into Italy from Swiss bank accounts. Another theory is that the Israeli agents were monitoring contacts between Iranian firms and Italian ones based in Lombardy’s industrial zone.
The agents who survived the tragedy left the next day. Two business jets were flown from Israel to Milan, according to flight trackers, possibly to swiftly return the surviving Israeli guests.
It is unclear where they had been staying as, according to the Italian press, there was no trace of hotel bookings.
“I don’t know where the reconstructions came from but they all seem a bit forced,” said the police source. “Anyone can write what they want to, they could even say the boat was targeted by aliens. But what happened is that there was an accident caused by a weather event. I don’t see a great mystery other than the fact that they hired a tourist boat on what was initially a beautiful day for a tour of the lake, maybe for a birthday – it’s not your typical 007 occasion.”
A source at the Piccaluga shipyard said: “The boat left from here, but I know nothing about the people who were on board. This was an awful tragedy in which four people died, that’s it.” The source added that the change in weather had not been forecast. “Unfortunately they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Israeli government censors briefly blocked reporting on the identity of the retired Mossad agent who drowned, amid confusion over what had happened and why he was in northern Italy.
Italian news outlets had named him as Erez Shimoni and on Wednesday the Israeli prime minister’s office finally confirmed the deceased had served in the Mossad spy agency but did not name him. Israeli agents often use fake names.
“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,” the office said in a statement. “The Mossad mourns the loss and shares in the family’s sorrow.”
It added that “due to his service in the organisation, it is impossible to elaborate” on his activities.
The incident comes just two months after prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Rome to boost ties with the far-right Meloni administration – the two countries already trade in military hardware.
It is not unusual for ‘retired’ Israeli agents to be called up, and with reports that all of the passengers aboard the doomed boat were intelligence agents, there was speculation in Israel about whether the trip was truly for leisure or possibly part of a low-profile work trip. - Guardian Service