As the country is facing one of its most pressing crises in recent history, with numbers of COVID-19 infected people surging and countries banning Malta from their travel lists, the Prime Minister has spent yet another long weekend in Sicily on his luxury yacht – but his office is refusing to answer questions on the matter.
His office has declined to explain why Robert Abela is keeping his luxury yacht – an Azimut 50 Fly named Baloo III – overseas, preferring to travel to Sicily by ferry to spend weekends with his family and friends even when his presence is needed due to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency.
The Office of the Prime Minister has also refused to state whether his yacht, which is registered in Rome and berthed in the VIP area at the Marina di Ragusa, is leased or registered in his name in which case it would need to be listed in his declaration of assets.
Due to the fact that the Prime Minister is the most important public figure on the island and is expected to be transparent and accountable, even about his private affairs, The Shift asked his office a number of questions including who Abela acquired the boat from, how much he paid, and why the Baloo III is still registered and berthed overseas instead of Malta.
Since the Prime Minister’s Office refused to divulge any details, The Shift consulted yachting and maritime experts based on a large number of photos and videos of Abela’s boat and his presence on it witnessed by a number of people who visit Ragusa for a weekend break.
Yachting experts told The Shift that although the Prime Minister’s boat is an Azimut – one of the most prestigious Italian brands for leisure boats – it is estimated to have a current value of up to €300,000 as assessments date the model to about a decade ago. More recent models fetch a far higher price but the OPM’s silence makes this difficult to confirm.
The yacht costs up to €20,000 a year to keep, including berthing, maintenance and upkeep. Such a boat normally consumes some 200 litres per hour of use.
Abela is on a financial package of not more than €60,000 annually before tax. His wife is a lawyer working at her husband’s legal practice together with his father, former President and PL deputy leader George Abela, who acts as a consultant. Lydia Abela’s income is not known.
Sources at the Marina di Ragusa told The Shift that Abela does not seem to use the boat regularly as he prefers to stay on it while berthed. Maltese citizens taking pictures of him while on holiday showed him participating in social activities, including spin classes and social outings, without maintaining any social distancing measures. He told the Labour Party TV station on Sunday that he was “teleworking”.
The Prime Minister has been facing severe criticism for his decision to open up travel to Malta and permit mass events, saying Malta had “beaten” the virus.
On Saturday, 72 new cases were announced with another 63 cases on Sunday while the R-factor (the rate at which the virus is spread) is over 2 – meaning that each infected person is transmitting it to at least another two individuals while swabbing centres are struggling to cope. A number of countries, including Belgium, have put Malta on the red list.
While Abela chose to spend a long weekend in Sicily despite concerns on the increase in infected people in Malta, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne was Acting Prime Minister.
Yachting experts questioned why Abela was not berthing his yacht in one of the marinas in Malta when the government spends millions a year to market Malta’s shipping and yachting register overseas.
Abela, who was catapulted to the highest office with disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s help only three years after first becoming a Labour MP, is known to be an avid boat enthusiast having owned a powerboat and another, smaller, cabin cruiser before his use of the Azimut 50 Fly.
Before entering politics in 2017 and until becoming Prime Minister, Abela’s private legal practice had received hundreds of thousands from the Planning Authority in direct orders for legal services.
The lucrative public contracts were first awarded by a Nationalist government to Abela’s father in 2001 through an expression of interest. Yet they kept being renewed for almost 20 years by different administrations until Abela became Prime Minister last January.
It is estimated that Abela’s legal office was paid millions in public funds for services rendered to the Planning Authority during the past two decades.