Heavy seas were buffeting the rocks – certainly not the time for a swim.ALBERT FENECH

 

e/mail – salina46@go.net.mt

 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/jerome.fenech

 

The coastlines of the Maltese Islands are a honeycomb of scores of caves and caverns, some visible from land but most hidden from on-land sight and only accessible by boat and the smaller ones by kayak.

 

The area known as ‘il-Blata tal-Melh’ – dofficult to access at any time.

I have been intending to tell you about them for weeks but each time set them aside. However, some four weeks ago something happened that brought them sharply into focus in a fantastic episode that will be added to the many mysteries that surround Malta and Gozo in general.

 

In the second week of August this year Malta was sweltering under a crippling Central Mediterranean heat wave and as we approached the second week-end of the month, Mother Nature unleashed a powerful north westerly gale accompanied by tumultuous sea conditions with devastating consequences around the northern coastlines of Malta.

 

The ‘Rock of Salt’ zone viewed from another angle.

Continual warnings were broadcast and posted informing would-be swimmers to keep out of the sea and stay away from low-lying coastlines. As often happens, there are those who think they know better – mainly foreigners or visiting tourists – often resulting in fatal and other devastating consequences.

 

One such case was that of seven French youths returning from a Saturday night boat party trip to Comino. As they approached the Sliema coast they jumped into the turbulent sea for a swim – to my mind more motivated by excess alcohol rather than good, logical sense. Sometime later four remained unaccounted for and later still three made it to land but one remained missing.

 

An area known for its salt pans, one of several around the Maltese Islands.

His totally decomposed body was hauled out of the sea some seven days later and only identified by DNA tests.

 

HOWEVER, the real story is that of two youths, Maltese 19-year-old Nick Johnston and 21-year-old Mark Petric from Serbia who on the Friday afternoon of the same weekend cycled to the north of Malta to a place called Blata tal-Melh (a Rock made of Sea-Salt), also an area of salt pans, where they intended to swim at the base of the cliffs.

 

Nice and tranquil on a calm day.

Some hours later their families reported them missing and an intensive search ensued along the cliffs with helicopters hovering over the buffeting sea. Their back packs were found in one area, and some time later their bicycles were located in a place further down the cliffs where they had been concealed. There was no sign of the two youths.

 

Appeals were made for searches – hampered by continued stormy weather – including one appeal that drones should be deployed in the search. Their families and friends expressed optimism the two would safely be located somewhere or other.

 

The two youths, Johnston (left) and Petric.

Saturday went by and the whole of Malta’s media continued to continually monitor the searches. This continued throughout Sunday and when nothing transpired, hopes began to sink fast and the worst was feared.

 

Monday morning loomed, the wind and sea having mostly subsided and at some time in the early morning, the media exploded with the hot news they had been located by a fisherman who was trawling in the area and had seen them waving and frantically calling. He informed the marine Armed Forces and the two youths were picked up safe and sound.

 

The two youths pictured desperately clinging to the rocks before they were rescued.

Later in the day they recounted their hair-raising experiences of having gone to swim they were buffeted towards a cave and managed to cling desperately to a rock in a cavern where they spent two nights and days, how they had slept across each other perched on the rock to keep warm and how their frantic gestures to try and attract passing military rescue launches had all failed.

 

All’s well that ends well one may say. However, in the following days some people began to express doubts. Was it a genuine adventure or a planned ‘shamventure’?

 

Marine Armed Forces launches approaching to rescue them.

With the sea conditions so obviously unswimmable, whatever made them take to the water? How did they manage to keep together in such devastating seas unless they had actually roped themselves together? How did they end up on the same rock clinging to it for dear life? Why were their back packs found in one place and their bicycles in another place?

 

Was it really an adventure of foolish youth or a contrived ‘shamventure’ stunt carefully planned and executed?

 

The rocks they desperately clung to.

There the mystery remains and since then nothing more has been heard and thus a further mystery to the many that surround the Maltese Islands.

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On a weekly basis I am inserting a Maltese saying, expression or proverb and where possible English equivalents that will help give insight into the Maltese psyche.

 

MALTESE SAYING

“The sea has a soft belly but a very hard head”

Beware of the sea! It may look pleasant, nice and blue, cool, inviting and serene but you cannot trust its moods and its currents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Albert Fenech

Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management but still retained his roots by actively pursuing freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel.