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EXCLUSIVE: Prime Minister to spend €1m a month to detain migrants on ship

migrants detention
The MV Galaxy the Maltese government will be hiring at a cost of €1 million per month to detain migrants at sea.

The government will be paying €33,500 a day, or over €1 million a month, to charter a massive vessel to host migrants offshore in a repeat move of a controversial decision taken earlier in the year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.

In May, Labour Prime Minister Robert Abela’s decision had cost taxpayers €1.7 million. He had justified the move as ‘necessary’ to control infections while taking the populist right-wing stand that ‘the EU must carry the burden’. It had failed and the migrants were brought onshore.

Now, Abela is repeating the move amid criticism of decisions taken to open up travel and permit mass events at the start of the summer with no COVID-19 restriction measures that have led to a surge in infection rates that the government is still struggling to control.

The Shift can exclusively reveal that the government has agreed to hire the MV Galaxy – a Cypriot flagged 41-year-old RO/RO passenger ship – currently operating the sea crossing between the ports of Brindisi in southern Italy and Vlore in Albania.

It is not yet known where the 127-metre-long vessel, which can host more than 350 passengers, will be moored while serving as an offshore detention facility.

The Shift is informed that while the government is trying to finance this massive expense using EU funds, Brussels has again signalled its difficulty to approve such spending on such a questionable move widely condemned by human rights organisations.

The MV Galaxy is expected to be in Maltese waters within five days of the contract being signed. The agent is Walmar Marine Ltd, owned by Anthony and Michael Zammit from Gozo – the same owners of Go Fuels Ltd involved in fuel bunkering.

The agent is Walmar Marine Ltd, owned by Anthony and Michael Zammit from Gozo.

The vessel must be equipped with all essentials, from food to medical requirements and manned by a foreign crew who will also take care of the security arrangements, although it is unclear how licensing requirements will be met.

The €1 million a month price tag should cover all costs except fuel which will again be covered by taxpayers if the government orders the ship to move from one anchorage to another or in the eventuality of ordering the vessel back to a Maltese port.

It is not yet known which migrants will be transferred onto the vessel and for how long will they are detained on board.

Walmar’s the cheapest offer from those deemed by the ministry to be compliant. The Shift revealed the bids submitted earlier this month, warning that the costs could spiral to millions.

The Prime Minister’s decision is aimed at placating increasing discomfort with the Labour administration on the handling of the migration and COVID-19 issues. Only weeks after Abela declared that Malta ‘had won the war’ on the pandemic and that there would be no second wave, the country is listed as having the second highest infection rate per 100,000 people.

Malta Prime Minister Robert Abela.
Malta Prime Minister Robert Abela. Photo: DOI

The government launched a video promoted on social media and through its Labour Party channels to convince the nation all was well. Statistics were manipulated to reach that goal.

At the same time, the government tried to shift the blame of the mishandling of the situation on irregular migrants reaching Maltese shores. Yet the figures show that the majority of cases started spreading as a result of the lax attitude adopted by the government when opening the airport and supporting massive events to attract tourists even when other countries had exercised caution.

The massive expense to be spent on the chartering of the MV Galaxy occurs amid signs of unprecedented economic difficulties, including tremendous loss of revenue by the government, extraordinary expenses to face the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing unemployment.

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