Hopes fade for Swiss twins last seen on Corsica ferry

9th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Twin six-year-old girls missing for 10 days from their home in Switzerland were last seen on a ferry to Corsica with their now-dead father, a Marseille prosecutor said Wednesday.

As hopes of finding the girls alive diminished, French prosecutor Jacques Dallest told a news conference in Marseille that three witnesses had seen the twins on board the ferry with their father after he bought tickets in Marseille for the crossing to Propriano in Corsica.

"We know since yesterday (Tuesday) from passengers on the boat between Marseille and Propriano that he was with the little girls," Dallest told journalists.

Family members have said they fear the worst after the father, Matthias Schepp, committed suicide in southeastern Italy last Thursday, having failed to return six-year-olds Alessia and Livia to his estranged wife on January 30.

Investigators had previously been unable to determine if the children had taken the overnight ferry which left Marseille Monday last week after a witness reported seeing the father buying a ticket earlier the same day.

However a woman in a neighbouring cabin on the ferry "explained that she heard children crying in the evening and that shortly afterwards, she saw the little girls and was able to formally identify one," Dallest said.

The prosecutor said the woman had later seen "the little girls in the play room of the boat".

Dallest said investigators have drawn a blank on the girls' whereabouts after the crossing.

He said one witness he described as "an elderly man" had seen two children get off the ferry in Propriano with an adult but could not be sure it was the girls.

The family of the mother, Irina Lucidi, have admitted to fearing the worst after they received 4,400 euros from the father, sent by post last Thursday shortly before he threw himself under a train in southeastern Italy.

"It worries us because the theory that he might have paid someone to keep the children doesn't hold any more," the uncle, Valerio Lucidi, said Tuesday as the family retreated behind closed doors in the quiet lakeside dormitory village of St-Sulpice in western Switzerland.

The couple, reportedly both employees of tobacco giant Philip Morris, were in the midst of a tense separation and had shared custody of the children prior to Schepp's unexplained dash by car from Switzerland to Italy, through the southern French port of Marseille, which the uncle described as "complete madness".

Prior to the sightings on the boat, the last confirmed trace of the blond haired daughters, who were wearing colourful clothing and distinctive spectacles, dates back to the day they disappeared, January 30, according to investigators.

Earlier Dallest had told journalists that time was now a crucial factor in terms of the survival of the twins.

"The more time passes, the more hopes of finding them alive fade," he said.

Swiss police said Wednesday they were continuing to search the region around the home, including along Lake Geneva, where Canadian-born Schepp, reportedly a boating enthusiast, and children spent their last weekend together.

"Intense search operations are carrying on today in ports and anywhere the investigators believe is useful," a spokeswoman for Vaud regional police force told AFP.

© 2011 AFP

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