Men cleared of causing €3,200 damage to rental boat

Three men had been charged with causing involuntarily damage to a sea vessel

Three young men have been cleared of causing over €3,000 worth of damage to a boat they had rented, after a court ruled that it was not clear where the incident took place.

Inspector Clayton Camilleri had charged Niko Agius, Deyan Caruana and Nicolas Buhagiar with causing involuntarily damage to a sea vessel, amounting to €3,218.21.

In August 2018, the men had hired the self-drive boat from Tigne, which boat was licenced for operations inside ports only. The owner of the boat in question told the court that the men had been given a safety booklet and a 20 minute instruction session on how to operate the boat.

After about an hour of use, the men had called up the owner, explaining that they had almost been capsized by a wave and that the engine had ended up in the sea. The owner had sent his assistant to rescue them but found that the men were not near the Valletta breakwater, where they had claimed to be, but in a cave under Fort Rinella.

The prosecution had summoned a Met Office representative who told the court that the sea conditions on that day had been calm to moderate and that there had been no adverse weather warning issued.

The accused men had testified, saying that they had not been sailing close to the rocks, but had been pushed against them by a wave which dislodged the engine, sending it to the bottom of the sea.

Nicholas Buhagiar had been injured as a result of the impact, exhibited a medical certificate.
The three accused denied receiving any instructions before setting sail, aside from having been shown how to start the engine and where to sail.

The trio added that although the engine was not working properly and had stopped, they had decided to keep on trying to turn it on again and set sail. They denied the accusation of negligence.

The court noted that Deyan Caruana had admitted to being close to the shore when they were smashed against the rocks, but that Niko Agius claimed that two large waves had hit them when they were just beyond the Valletta breakwater.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea was not convinced by the accused’s explanation however, saying that it was “difficult to believe”. The court said it was more likely that the accused went outside the permitted zones and found themselves in difficulty. If they truly had an engine failure, they should have advised the complainant and not continued to try and run it, said the magistrate.

However, noted the magistrate, the charges needed to be proven in their entirety – including the place, date and time. The prosecution had chosen to tie the charges to a particular zone, “Rinella Bay, Kalkara,” whereas they had indicated the place of the incident as a cave under the Fort Rinella Film Studios. “Once the prosecution opted to tie the charges to a particular zone, it therefore needed also to prove that the crime took place in that specific zone,” said the court.

On this issue the court said it had before it the versions of the accused and the complainant, but it noted that it was not the latter who found them and nobody had been brought to testify that this incident took place in Rinella Bay.

For this reason, the court declared the accused not guilty of the charge against them.

Lawyer David Gatt was defence counsel.