Married man from Malta killed after shipping container fell on him at port

A Maltese worker died when a metal shipping container fell onto his forklift truck. Christopher Zahra from Safri, Malta, died on September 29, 2020 while working at Malta Freeport in Birzebbuga. An inquest into the 36-year-old’s death was held at Hatfield Coroner’s Office in Hertfordshire today (Tuesday, November 10) because his body was repatriated to the UK.

The court heard how Zahra was to be cremated but that cremations in Malta are illegal and there are no facilities for it. It is reportedly not unusual for bodies to be transferred to the UK in such circumstances. Senior Coroner Geoffrey Sullivan heard evidence from Lee Wood, of the Hertfordshire Coroners Office, who had prepared a report for the hearing.

What is an inquest?

Inquests do not investigate every single death that happens, but will hear unexplained or suspicious deaths of individuals.

They will hear from witnesses from organisations, health services, as well as officers and police who investigated the incidents. The law says that the coroner must open an inquest into a death if there is a reasonable cause to suspect that the death was due to anything other than natural causes. An inquest is a limited fact-finding inquiry to establish:

  • Who died;
  • When they died;
  • Where they died;
  • How they died; and
  • Information needed by the Registrar of Deaths so the death can be registered.

There is a formal court setting and all must stand when the coroner enters and leaves the court.

It is very much in the public interest to have an effective inquest system, as it safeguards the legal rights of the deceased’s family and other interested persons. It highlights lessons to be learned and advances in medical knowledge. Many families also find it helps to have the chance to ask questions to witnesses, and at the end of the process, know that they have the full and accurate facts about their loved one’s death.

Due to limited evidence around the case, the court heard how Mr Wood found an online article saying that Zahra, who was married, died when a container fell onto the lifter that he was operating at the international port. Mr Wood added that ‘he had been repatriated to the UK’ because ‘cremations are illegal in Malta’ and there are no such facilities there. He has no links with the UK and has no family here.

The Maltese Department for Health Regulation, the Environmental Health Directorate and the Burials Regulatory Unit allowed for his body to be transferred to Hertfordshire. Senior Coroner Geoffrey Sullivan concluded: “Mr Zahra was a truck driver and died at the Malta Freeport as a result of a large metal container falling onto him, causing multiple traumatic injuries. “The first conclusion I consider is one of an accident.

“I have to be satisfied that the death came as a result of an accident. With the information I have, I’m satisfied.” He added that the medical cause of death was 1a) multiple injuries caused by 1b) blunt trauma.

According to Times Malta, Malta Freeport said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with our colleague’s family and friends at this extraordinarily difficult time.”

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