They know the price of everything but the value of nothing – and they have no empathy or imagination

Published: May 7, 2013 at 7:18pm

Twenty-three years ago, my mother’s only brother (and my only uncle) disappeared miles off Cagliari, Sardinia, when the boat he was on, along with two friends and the skipper, capsized in terrible weather. They were on their way to watch the football (it was World Cup year).

Two of the men survived and were picked up drifting in open sea on a life-raft days later. My uncle and the skipper were never found, despite the deployment over several days of the Italian coast guard and planes from the US military base in Sigonella, Sicily.

To this day, I can’t read a news story about people lost at sea in roughly comparable circumstances without feeling a sickening rush of fear and dread and becoming deeply upset.

But even if this had not happened, I don’t think I would have been as unimaginative or lacking in empathy as many of the people currently posting comments beneath online reports of the four adults and one boy, all of them French, who went missing on Sunday/Monday night.

They had taken a tender from their yacht, moored off Dwejra, to put-put a short distance down the coast to Xlendi, where they had supper. They left at midnight but never made it back to Dwejra. Their skipper reported them missing yesterday afternoon.

Two bodies, thought to theirs, have now been found off Fomm ir-Rih, along with a capsized boat and a random life-buoy. The other three people are still missing.

The Italian coastguard in Catania, and the US Air Force in Sigonella, have deployed planes at the request of the Maltese Armed Forces, for help in the search.

Some of the more reprehensible comments online talk scathingly about the cost of all this. I find those remarks shocking, even though I should not be surprised given the way people think and behave here in Malta. They cannot possibly have any idea, but they should have the imaginative empathy at least to know that they have no idea and so they had best say nothing.

This compulsion to leave their spoor beneath each and every news report, even if there is nothing at all that can usefully be said, is disturbing. Real people and actual tragedies have been reduced to ciphers on the page, there to be talked about as though they are fiction rather than real.

The agony of the wait for the news that might never come is clearly beyond the comprehension of many of those who comment as though this is nothing but a thrilling piece of fiction with updates, or an opportunity to talk about wasting money.

One man even commented, as though he hadn’t just read about the disappearance of five people, including a boy, how beautiful the picture of Dwejra is in one report.

Now one of the Italian pilots involved in the search has posted a comment on the timesofmalta board, and I was glad that he did, even though the trite remarks continued to some extent. It is unlikely that he will get through the hard shell of pure utilitarianism that encases so many Maltese people, but at least he tried. And his attempt gives succour to the rest of us, many of whom are writing in to counter these unpleasant, heartless remarks.

davide arcangeli

Today, 11:35

I can’t read of the “expenses”to save 5 souls(including a 15 years old boy).To provide assistance and rescue for those in peril is a paramount action that any country and every person should bring on when needed.I am one of the pilots who performed the initial search last night on a terrible rough sea and into fast blowing winds, not a good situation for those out there, hope we can find them soon

37 Comments Comment

  1. one of us says:

    I remember your uncle well – one of the nicest men I knew at Neptunes Waterpolo Club. I can understand what you and, I imagine, his children are feeling and how upsetting this must be to you all. Why don’t people put themselves in the the suffering relatives’ shoes and refrain from passing such asinine comments.

  2. AG says:

    I wonder what these people would say if they were the ones involved in similar circumstances.

  3. Another John says:

    Does this happen only in Malta? I mean, this attitude. I’m posing this question in the most serious of tones. Because, I mean, how low can we go?

    • Alexander Ball says:

      No. These comments happen all over the world. All a moronic halfwit needs is a keyboard and an internet connection. That’s the future.

    • Josette says:

      Unfortunately it’s not just a Maltese phenomenon. I follow regularly some foreign newspapers and certain remarks on the comment boards are just too shocking.

      People appear to consider comment boards as a means to piss out all the egoism, negativism, idiocy which they have in them.

      [Daphne – It’s so much worse in Malta, though, Josette, because society here is small and restricted so those nasty comments cannot be viewed dispassionately.]

      • A. Charles says:

        Paraphrasing the former Irish foreign minister, Cruise O’Connor, the Maltese may be Catholics but they are definitely not Christian.

      • But are you sure that those who pen such insensitive comments claim to be Christian or Catholic?

  4. T says:

    Very true, some of the comments are shocking. And these were French tourists, imagine if we were looking for immigrants who departed from North Africa? The dose of venom would have doubled.

    Anyway, a terrible tragedy. I hope someone is found alive.

  5. Noel Zahra says:

    Some people really do have a sad and dull life

  6. Big Daddy says:

    It’s probably the good (or bad, rather) old green-eyed-monster talking through those writing in. They’re probably envious of anyone owning/enjoying the use of a yacht.

  7. robert says:

    When my son was injured I was moved to see two doctors throw themselves down a 5-metre fall to get to him fast. Later I once counted 14 people round his bed while he was in a coma. They did the job right because they saved him. Proud of you all.

  8. TinaB says:

    I was uteerly shocked and horrified after I read some of the comments on, earlier today.

    The level of ignorance on our little islands is endless – no wonder its roots are almost impossible to eradicate.

  9. David S says:

    What a tragedy.

    It is often the case in such a situation, with a sequence of events happening, leading to the ultimate tragedy.

    Lack of a good weather forecast, and five persons venture out on a small tender at night, most probably with scant knowledge of the area. Radio, mobile phone? Was there a means to notify them of deteriorating weather conditions and/or notifying the skipper they were about to return to the yacht?

    The skipper attempting a search on his own, and alerting the police 16 hours later!

    Time is the difference between life and death.

    It angers me that some people, be they tradesmen, captains, graduates, obtain their licence or degree but lack basic common sense in problem-solving, or basic safety precautions.

    • Xidja says:

      Yes, the delay in notifying the authorities struck me too, especially in a small place like Gozo, where it should have been easy to get to shore and find a phone if there were no other means of communication on board.

  10. Snoopy says:

    The moderator should not let comments like those through in times of tragedy.

  11. Gladio says:

    Ultimately responsibility for the uploading of such trash comments rests with the web site administrator.

  12. AE says:

    I remember that tragedy well. I was then friends with one of your cousins. I will never forget the sheer disbelief at the horror of what had happened. The hope and accompanying despair at not finding the bodies.

    Unfortunately the Times of Malta comments board has become witness to the loss of values in our society. Sadly I think these comments are being made because the persons concerned are not Maltese. I do not recall this type of reaction when the Shimshar tragedy occurred.

    The tune would be totally different if that 15 yr old was their son or one of the women, their mother. The value of human life is not determined by nationality. Every effort must be made to find them, unlikely though that may be in the circumstances.

  13. Xidja says:

    If Mr Arcangeli is who I think he is, then the callousness of the comments must have hit home all the more for him, since I believe he himself is the father of a son only a year or so younger than the boy he was searching for.

  14. Duncan says:

    No matter how many lives are involved, there is NO COST that is too much to save even a single life. Some people should be banned from commenting on articles, or at least be properly moderated.

    Also, the comments function should be disabled for certain stories involving human distress of this sort. Don’t know what you think about that…

    [Daphne – I agree with disabling the comments function for stories like that. I noticed that timesofmalta disabled comments on the first reports about the death of Ray Pace, and I thought it a good thing.]

  15. Claude Sciberras says:

    Today I had a similar experience. I work in the diving industry and yesterday a group of foreign divers were diving on the Um El Faroud in Zurrieq.

    Apparently a couple of divers got caught in the currents and could not make it back so an instructor from another dive centre asked one of the boat people there to rescue the divers and tow them back.

    Whoever knows the site knows that this is a very short distance for any boat.

    Apparently the one who rescued the divers with his boat called the dive centre to try and get some form of remuneration for this rescue.

    Whilst it is always nice that a person rescued shows appreciation (not necessarily financial) one should not help someone in difficulty in the hope that remuneration is forthcoming but should do it selflessly out of kindness and love.

    Unfortunately we are living in a society which is not giving due importance to these basic values and hence the inane comments.

  16. xmun says:

    Agree with your comments and would add that it is shameful of any online newspaper to upload this kind of feedback.

  17. Ghoxrin Punt says:

    In my view the Times should disallow comments on tragedies such as these.

    The Times should also vet the comments and refuse to upload these sort of comments. If they had any integrity they should also send an email to the ‘contributor’, to inform them that comments of that kind are below the standards of The Times and will therefore not be uploaded.

    • Bill Sykes says:

      Maybe they are more interested in the number of comments rather than if they make sense at all.

  18. Sparky says:

    It’s not just a lack of empathy, it’s also a pathetic attitude where we tend to downplay anything emotional (at times political too) that makes news choosing, instead, to find ways to crack a joke without considering the side effects of such callousness. Imbasta indahqu..

  19. Mandy Mallia says:

    A third body has just been found in Comino. I really hope that the other two will be found, so the families can have some sort of closure.

  20. judy says:

    I cannot think about them and not cry, especially if they drifted apart and were alone. Oh my God, cannot say anymore; it’s just too painful.

  21. mattie says:

    The Maltese always manage to ruin everything. Now they’ve taken to ruining the internet with their nasty comments.

    Treat them for what they are: insecure people.

  22. Stanley Clew says:

    Wilfred Mamo was a great friend of mine as being a perfect gentleman. A great loss to all his family.

  23. Wilfred Mamo was a great friend at the time and felt his loss deeply. Lost at sea which he loved so much.

  24. Zululu says:

    I disagree with disabling comments even though I find myself more often than not depressed by the moronic comments often uploaded by individuals lacking common courtesy or empathy.

    My suggestion is that web masters put in place a “webmaster recommends:” indicator for comments of value. This would facilitate the search by readers of comments worth reading.

  25. De fonseca says:

    I am an avid reader and follower of your blog. I have an open mind about what you write and especially about the comments other people contribute to your blog.

    It seems however, that whatever subject is being written about, it almost always turns out as an exercise to hurl abuse and insult against me – Mr. average Maltese man. It seems to me that the end sole purpose of your very insightfull contributions is to provoke degeneration, insult and in general re-fortify the insecurity and inferiority that very small nations carry.

    Small nations especially the one thats only the size of a large rock, have a much harder battle to compete with much larger nations that have larger populations and resourses. The whole point here being is that I absolutely abhor the fact that every time some idiot writes a nonsensical comment everybody responds with a trashing to the whole Maltese nation.

    I work in the tourist industry and come in daily contact with no end of absolute idiots. I wonder sometimes if these people actually live on planet earth. However never, absolutely never do I say that the English are this, or the Germans are that, or the Dutch do this and the Russians do that.

    I am now 63 years old and as time goes by I continue reconfirming that hey, we don’t do too bad. Most times I don’t tell the tourists how good we have it here, because I have learned that this only provokes jealousy and than the real character of these nationals comes forth.

    So to the world out there, I know we are not perfect, but be assured that in all countries there is a range of characters and levels of intelligence. Nobody or nation has a monopoly on the perfect combination of the ideal character with the right level of intelligence.

    Anytime you want to comment be you Maltese or foreign, restrict your contribution to the written piece and don’t drag me and the rest of the nation into it by insulting and degenerating one and all.

    Addressing the commentators, what you write exposes only your very own state of mind and at no time has anybody given you writ to speak on my behalf or that of the Maltese nation as a whole.

  26. ray meilak says:

    Human life has no price attached to it. Search and rescue personal risk their own life to save people they don’t know. How many rescue personel have lost their lives to save their fellow human being?

    These are the unsung heros and they want to remain so. Some people have to watch the film Argo, that’s just been released recently – maybe they can watch and learn what a real hero is.

  27. VICTORIA says:

    I would even not give up to save alost pet let alone a human miracle. I say miracle because I truly believe that every living soul is a miracle of God…..One has to experience what I experienced to see just how true this is if perhaps they cannot believe it.

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