Activists and residents are concerned about the Senglea mayor’s intentions to put the locality ‘on the map’ as a new official cruise liner destination only months after a deal signed that is already resulting in more vessels berthed in the area.
The plans, revealed in a Facebook post by Senglea mayor Clive Pulis last month, show a rebranding of the area known as Boiler Wharf/Senglea Point into ‘Senglea Wharf’. An outline of the plans seen by The Shift includes shuttle services, coaches, e-cars, e-bikes, a Maltapost vintage truck, a Maltese food stand, a Maltese wine tasting table, a Maltese beer truck, a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing train, a water-taxi waiting area and a taxi stand, among other ‘attractions’.
A coalition of activists and residents – ‘Action: Give us Back our Land’ – has expressed doubts about these plans. The same group was recently campaigning against a situation wherein a cruise ship at Palumbo shipyard, a stone’s throw away from the wharf, had spent some five months berthed with engines running, resulting in constant running fumes, and leading residents to question the impact on their health.
Since 2010, Palumbo shipyard has been leased from the government to Palumbo group in a 30-year concession. Last July, MSC Cruises took a 50% share of the shipyard management in a joint venture. As a result, the shipyard is now being used to service MSC cruise ships and other vessels.
Now, Pulis has publicised his aspirations to see the neighbouring wharf become “the gateway to the Three Cities and the South of Malta” – an official destination for cruise liner passengers, as opposed to being the spillover berth for when the Valletta port is full, as it is now.
“It is a known fact that cruise ship tourists spend less than any other tourist group when on land. The impacts of such a large group disembarking, and such a large vessel being in port are also known. Conclusively, the overall benefits of encouraging cruise ship traffic are dubious at best,” a spokesperson for the coalition told The Shift.
Yet the mayor insists that with the situation as it stands, guests often arrive in Senglea and are disappointed when they realise they are not in Valletta as expected. Senglea is then merely regarded as an inconvenience, so tourists go and return to the Capital by ferry, he argued.
Pulis said the project “is not going to happen overnight”. He said cruise liners typically plan two years ahead and “it is not a given” that they will be immediately drawn to the concept.
He said that a spillover call to Senglea is planned for next year and in time to change the marketing of the destination from Valletta to Senglea so they want to “treat this call as a showcase of how a call to Senglea could be”. Positive guest feedback would allow them the opportunity to confidently market the idea, he added.
Two weights, two measures?
Although the idea will still contribute to pollution in the area, the mayor’s plans paint a picture where environmental impact seems to be taken into consideration, at least to some extent. The efforts largely focus on encouraging tourists to walk or use electric vehicles, and the use of ship-to-shore installations, which has in itself raised questions about the use of ship-to-shore installations in the area.
The coalition is asking why such a technology can be considered at the wharf but not at Palumbo Shipyard, which would serve to reduce pollution for residents around the yard. The emissions and the noise from the cruise liners berthed at the yard are particularly inconvenient during COVID when people are forced to spend more time indoors.
The wharf was listed by Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg as one of the locations to benefit from the installation, which is set to cut over 90% of air pollution emitted by cruise ships as they will be plugged into the national grid. However, the installation of similar technology in the shipyard has not yet been confirmed.
The coalition said this “beggars belief”, pointing out that several cruise ships are docked there “for months on end, ever since its joint venture with MSC cruises”.
“It is imperative that the government ensures ship-to-shore at Palumbo shipyard immediately,” the group added.
In January, The Shift had reported that MSC Cruises plans to expand its fleet by 12 new ships between 2021 and 2027, a move which was also followed by calls to implement ship-to-shore technology.
Although no concrete objective was provided, the Infrastructure Ministry told The Shift in December that they were “in discussions with Palumbo on the way forward” when it comes to the installations, which they plan to have ready by the end of 2023.
The Shift had sent questions on the issue to Palumbo in December however no replies were received.
The NGOs in the coalition include Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Forum Komunita’ Bormliza, Moviment Graffitti, Friends of the Earth, Futur Ambjent Wiehed, Senglea Historical Society, Association for Justice, Equality and Peace, and Zminijietna – Voice of the Left.