Italy's Capsized 'Spy Boat' Mystery Fuels Conspiracy Theories - and a TV Series

Italy is buzzing with conspiracy theories involving Russian oligarchs, Iranian drones, and a boatload of spies. So much so, an eight-part Israeli-French-Italian production is to delve into theories about the deaths of a Mossad officer, two Italian operatives, and the captain's Russian wife.

A riveting spy story is unfolding in Italy’s Lake Maggiore, with four people dead including Italian and Israeli intelligence officers.

The tragedy, initially seen as an unfortunate accident caused by a sudden storm, has taken on an air of intrigue as it emerged that 21 of the 23 individuals on board the overcrowded, 52-foot houseboat Gooduria worked for the Italian and Israeli intelligence services. Questions have emerged about the true purpose of the boat trip as Italy and Israel are two of the world's most powerful arms traders.

While the official investigation focuses on determining the cause of the capsized boat, the presence of spies and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the survivors have fueled conspiracy theories. Italian media allege that the group was working together, exchanging ‘information and documents’. Corriere della Sera speculated that the intelligence operatives were in Lake Maggiore to spy on Russian oligarchs who own villas on the lake. Others said Israeli officers were monitoring contacts between Iranian and Italian firms in Lombardy’s industrial zone who deal with civilian components used for drones.

The accident occurred at about 7.20 pm on May 28, 2023 when the boat sank during a violent storm on Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, an idyllic setting at the southern edge of the Swiss Alps. The lake is a serene and graceful playground dotted with grand villas and art deco towns - the ideal setting for a John le Carré spy thriller and, it transpires, the location of Israel’s Yes TV network's upcoming eight-part dramatic miniseries. Izhar Harlev, co-creator and head writer for Mossad 101, is to showrun the Maggiore series,Variety reports.

Italy's spy boat lake
Italy’s Lake Maggiore at the edge of the Swiss Alps


A ‘spy party’

Eight of the 21 passengers had ties to Italy’s secret service, and 13 with Israel. Claudio Alonzi, 62, and Tiziana Barnobi, 53, who both died in the tragedy, worked for the Italians. A 50-year-old retired Mossad agent also perished as did Anya Bozhkova, originally from Russia, who crewed the boat along with her Italian husband. Claudio Carminati, the boat’s skipper, survived and is under investigation as the Gooduria only had a capacity for 15 passengers.

The revelation of the espionage connections has triggered intense speculation with Italian media quickly labeling the gathering a ‘spy party’. Carminati and his wife were the only non-intelligence personnel on board. The surviving passengers either swam shore or were pulled to safety by other vessels and left the scene within a day. Israeli authorities arranged their return to Israel.

Police tried to dampen down the speculation by dismissing the mysterious circumstances: “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, “a police spokesperson said. “It’s not your typical 007 occasion.”

Corriere della Sera quoted Carminati, the skipper, as saying, “It was 30 seconds, then the apocalypse came, the boat immediately capsized and we fell into the water.”

The site of Italy's Spy Boat tragedy
 With grand villas and art deco towns, Lake Maggiore lures sophisticated travelers

Conspiracy theories and spies

Conspiracy theories surrounding the incident have taken root in the absence of concrete answers. The composition of the passenger list and his wife's nationality have fueled the speculation. The sudden departure of survivors and efforts to suppress information has only added to the intrigue.

Carlo Nocerino, Italy’s public prosecutor, is primarily focused on ascertaining the cause of the accident with questions surrounding the activities of the intelligence agents remaining outside the scope of his investigation. Until the boat is recovered, the true purpose of the ill-fated boat trip and its tragic accident will continue to be a subject of speculation.

Italy's Capsized 'Spy Boat' Mystery Fuels Conspiracy Theories - and a TV Series

BY
Caroline Byrne
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Italy is buzzing with conspiracy theories involving Russian oligarchs, Iranian drones, and a boatload of spies. So much so, an eight-part Israeli-French-Italian production is to delve into theories about the deaths of a Mossad officer, two Italian operatives, and the captain's Russian wife.

A riveting spy story is unfolding in Italy’s Lake Maggiore, with four people dead including Italian and Israeli intelligence officers.

The tragedy, initially seen as an unfortunate accident caused by a sudden storm, has taken on an air of intrigue as it emerged that 21 of the 23 individuals on board the overcrowded, 52-foot houseboat Gooduria worked for the Italian and Israeli intelligence services. Questions have emerged about the true purpose of the boat trip as Italy and Israel are two of the world's most powerful arms traders.

While the official investigation focuses on determining the cause of the capsized boat, the presence of spies and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the survivors have fueled conspiracy theories. Italian media allege that the group was working together, exchanging ‘information and documents’. Corriere della Sera speculated that the intelligence operatives were in Lake Maggiore to spy on Russian oligarchs who own villas on the lake. Others said Israeli officers were monitoring contacts between Iranian and Italian firms in Lombardy’s industrial zone who deal with civilian components used for drones.

The accident occurred at about 7.20 pm on May 28, 2023 when the boat sank during a violent storm on Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, an idyllic setting at the southern edge of the Swiss Alps. The lake is a serene and graceful playground dotted with grand villas and art deco towns - the ideal setting for a John le Carré spy thriller and, it transpires, the location of Israel’s Yes TV network's upcoming eight-part dramatic miniseries. Izhar Harlev, co-creator and head writer for Mossad 101, is to showrun the Maggiore series,Variety reports.

Italy's spy boat lake
Italy’s Lake Maggiore at the edge of the Swiss Alps


A ‘spy party’

Eight of the 21 passengers had ties to Italy’s secret service, and 13 with Israel. Claudio Alonzi, 62, and Tiziana Barnobi, 53, who both died in the tragedy, worked for the Italians. A 50-year-old retired Mossad agent also perished as did Anya Bozhkova, originally from Russia, who crewed the boat along with her Italian husband. Claudio Carminati, the boat’s skipper, survived and is under investigation as the Gooduria only had a capacity for 15 passengers.

The revelation of the espionage connections has triggered intense speculation with Italian media quickly labeling the gathering a ‘spy party’. Carminati and his wife were the only non-intelligence personnel on board. The surviving passengers either swam shore or were pulled to safety by other vessels and left the scene within a day. Israeli authorities arranged their return to Israel.

Police tried to dampen down the speculation by dismissing the mysterious circumstances: “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, “a police spokesperson said. “It’s not your typical 007 occasion.”

Corriere della Sera quoted Carminati, the skipper, as saying, “It was 30 seconds, then the apocalypse came, the boat immediately capsized and we fell into the water.”

The site of Italy's Spy Boat tragedy
 With grand villas and art deco towns, Lake Maggiore lures sophisticated travelers

Conspiracy theories and spies

Conspiracy theories surrounding the incident have taken root in the absence of concrete answers. The composition of the passenger list and his wife's nationality have fueled the speculation. The sudden departure of survivors and efforts to suppress information has only added to the intrigue.

Carlo Nocerino, Italy’s public prosecutor, is primarily focused on ascertaining the cause of the accident with questions surrounding the activities of the intelligence agents remaining outside the scope of his investigation. Until the boat is recovered, the true purpose of the ill-fated boat trip and its tragic accident will continue to be a subject of speculation.

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Italian rescue team searches for spy boat victims
A helicopter searches for missing passengers after the tourist boat capsized

Israel’s PM: ‘It is impossible to elaborate’

The condition of the boat, still submerged days after the accident, has delayed the investigation.  The overcrowding on the vessel may have impeded the captain's ability to navigate through adverse weather conditions. Authorities are examining compliance with safety regulations and other aspects of the houseboat’s operations.

Italian media named the deceased Mossad agent as ‘Erez Shimoni’ - potentially an alias - whereas Israel did not name him. “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,” Israel said in a statement. The PM’s office added that “due to his service in the organization, it is impossible to elaborate.”

“We're unlikely to ever find out his real identity, or what he was doing there,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

For now, the story remains a compelling mix of tragedy, espionage, and unanswered questions that have captured the public's imagination and reignited interest in the mysterious world of spies.

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