The Three Cities skyline from Valletta may soon be changing after Palumbo Shipyard was given a formal notice by Transport Malta to vacate its oil rig berths following a complaint by NGOs and Cottonera residents to the Ombudsman.
In a reply to activists within the NGO coalition Action: Give us Back our Land, Alan Saliba, the Commissioner for Environment and Planning within the Office of the Ombudsman, confirmed that it is only ships, not oil rigs, that could be berthed at the Palumbo Shipyards.
Saliba stressed that the office would “keep this case in check to ascertain that the proper procedures are duly followed.” The jack-up oil rigs have been berthed there for some four years.
In a post after receiving Saliba’s response, the group called the move “a great victory for the Cottonera and nation skyline and aesthetic”.
In comments to The Shift, a spokesperson for the coalition said they were “pleased that action is being taken to remove the illegally parked jack-up oil rigs, which have been defacing the Grand Harbour and environs for years”.
“Although not as visible, the other issues brought up in our complaint to the Ombudsman are of even more grave consequence to residents’ environment and health. We hope that the issues of inappropriate toxic waste disposal and lack of shore-to-ship infrastructure, will be dealt with thoroughly in the same way,” they said.
The group had turned to the Ombudsman for his intervention in November, shortly after the arrival of a 333-meter-long cruise ship in Palumbo shipyard in October – the result of a joint venture agreement between Palumbo and MSC Cruise Ships, which would see cruise ships frequenting the shipyard for maintenance.
The MSC Splendida has now had its engines running for months on end, causing residents to voice serious concerns with regards to pollution and the impact it was having on their health. One resident told The Shift about experiencing shortness of breath since the boat arrived.
The coalition had also asked the Ombudsman to investigate the working conditions of shipyard employees, as well as the company’s adherence to the conditions in the agreement with the government. The yard has been leased from the government in a 30-year concession by Palumbo Group since 2010.
The complaints had also included the decimation of views by the jack-up oil rig and “inappropriate toxic waste disposal” which, according to the group, was confirmed by the Planning Authority in 2013 and 2014 but was not followed through.
The statement had been signed by NGOs Association for Justice, Equality and Peace, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Forum Komunita Bormliza, Friends of the Earth Malta, Moviment Graffitti, The Archaeological Society, The Senglea Historical Society, Zminijietna – Voice of the Left.
The coalition had originally approached the government last March, prior to the joint venture being finalised. However, despite speaking to numerous government officials “the issues (voiced) were not addressed” – and the agreement was made official in summer.
The group had told the government that, before the deal went through, a shore-to-ship energy supply should be put in place, in order for works not to depend on keeping vessels’ engines running.
In December, the government informed The Shift that they are in talks with Palumbo “on the way forward” and hope to have such technology in place “by the end of 2023”.
In its letter to the government, the coalition had also asked for transparency “about the adherence or otherwise to tax obligations, and accounting standards and guidelines,” after hearing that Palumbo operated through a company in Panama, they said.
Palumbo had “unreservedly” condemned the allegations.
Questions sent to Palumbo were never answered.