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It is ‘abandon ship’ due to ignored COVID-19 regulations on ferries

COVID-19 regulations are not being followed onboard many ferry boats operating in Comino, Gozo and other popular spots for tourists in Malta.

The Shift has received a number of photos of passengers on board relatively small ferry boats packed like sardines, on their way to and from Comino, and seemingly oblivious of the restrictive measures introduced by the Health Ministry earlier in August.

New measures issued through a notice under the Public Health Act Chapter 465 states that a ferry boat shall carry no more than 50% of its maximum capacity, and passengers shall observe social distancing of two metres.

Photos received by The Shift show that this is not being observed and yet, despite numerous infuriated posts on social media, authorities do not seem concerned.

The Shift’s readers have commented over the lack of Transport Malta or police boats in areas around Gozo and Comino, such as the Blue Lagoon, to which a number of these ferry boats transport tourists.

The regulations also state that passengers are “to be reminded that face masks or visors must be worn throughout the whole course of the journey” and “passengers not wearing face masks or visors will not be allowed to board the ferry.” This regulation was clearly not being observed, witnesses confirmed.

The Shift reached officials of a Comino ferry service boat, identified from one of the photos. The boat in question was carrying at least 59 people, photos received by The Shift showed.

When contacted,  the owner of the vessel confirmed that the boat’s maximum capacity is 63 passengers. He apologised, saying he was aware of the regulations, as are all of his fleet’s captains. “I’ll call each and every captain to make sure they’re obeying the rules,” he added.

A captain from the same company reached out to The Shift, explaining that according to Transport Malta, their boat is listed as a commercial vessel, meaning it can carry 65% of normal capacity.

When asked why there were almost 60 people on the boat (almost 100% capacity), the captain said he doubted that was the case, as there are not that many tourists available for transport. Photos confirmed the boat was at close to full capacity, raising questions on how many people the boat was taking on when it was ‘not considered a busy day’.

Commercial boats, which are licensed to carry more than 10 persons, are allowed to carry 65% of the maximum capacity but, “shall not, in any case, exceed one person per four square metres of the space.”

Yacht owners who earn their keep through daily charters were told that they cannot carry more than 15 people on board a standard 45 foot vessel. Owners who spoke with The Shift said that they understand the regulations and cancelled a number of booked trips to abide by the rules. Those who refrain from doing fail to allow a level playing field.

“There were a number of occasions where I had to refuse a booking because they would exceed the number of people permissible on the boat. Then I go to Comino and see these big ferries packed with people on top of each other. That’s not fair,” one yacht master told The Shift.

“There are a number of big commercial boats that seem like they are obeying the rules. I cannot really put everyone in the same basket”, another yacht owner added.

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