The government has been given the green light by the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) to conclude “with urgency” negotiations to charter a vessel to be used as an offshore detention centre for migrants, at a cost to taxpayers of more than €1million per month.
Following objections by two bidders for the award of the tender issued by the Home Affairs Ministry, the government-appointed review board – an appeals tribunal – turned down the objections and directed the procurement process “to resume without delay, due to the urgent exceptional circumstances.”
Earlier this week, The Shift revealed that the government intended to award the contract to Walmar Marine Ltd to charter the MV Galaxy – a 127 metre vessel that can host up to 400 migrants.
The charter of this vessel is expected to cost taxpayers €33,500 per day, adding up to more than €1 million each month. It is not yet known which migrants will be transferred and detained aboard the ship. It is also not yet known where the ship will be anchored – this is critical to any potential funding the government hopes to acquire.
Two companies, VPJ Ltd, an offshoot of the Zammit Group known as ‘Ta’ Karistu’ and Ship One Agencies Ltd, another maritime services agency, alleged irregularities in the tender. They claimed that the original list detailing the prices of the received bids was changed after the closing of the tender, and that the company chosen to be awarded the tender did not have the lowest bid.
The PCRB did not accept these objections, insisting that the tendering process conducted by the government correctly followed procurement rules. Also, the objection from Ship One was not decided upon, as the same company had ‘strangely’ withdrawn its appeal only a few days after it had filed it.
Meanwhile, reacting to The Shift’s exclusive story that the government will fork out €1 million per month to detain migrants offshore, the European Commission stated that this may not necessarily be the case.
A spokesman for the European Commission said that while some of the expenses incurred by the chartering of such a ship might be eligible for EU funding, such as the cost of food and medical services aboard the ship, the EU will not finance the entire cost.
Also, the EU commission made it clear that any funding will only be granted if those on board have their full rights to claim asylum in Malta, and that the ship is anchored in Maltese territorial waters.
Meanwhile, The Shift has reported that the government risks losing over €5 million in EU funds allocated for the construction of a migrant centre that remains unbuilt even though it was meant to be completed this year.
So far, it is not known when the MV Galaxy – a 41year-old Cypriot RO/RO passenger ship, currently operating the crossing between southern Italy and Albania, will be directed by its owners to serve as Malta’s offshore detention centre for migrants.
According to the tender, the ship will have to be in Maltese waters within five days from the signing of the contract.
The €33,500 per day price tag to be paid by Maltese taxpayers for this ship includes all costs related to food, medicinal items and crew. It does not include the cost of fuel, in case the ship is moved from one anchorage to another, or additional expenses related to berthing, in case it is recalled to enter a Maltese port.
In May, the government spent another €1.7 million to carry out a similar operation to host migrants through direct orders given to Captain Morgan and Supreme Travel together with other service suppliers.
The company to be awarded the lucrative €1 million per month contract is Walmar Marine Ltd, owned by Gozitans Anthony and Michael Zammit, known as ‘Tal-Kus’. They are also the owners of Go Fuels, a company involved in the importation and distribution of fuel, including bunkering services on the high seas.
Human rights organisation Aditus told The Shift this was “a waste of taxpayers’ money of epic proportions” while concerns remain about people being treated inhumanely and the rise of xenophobia.