Two months after their initial action to occupy the beaches surrounding Blue Lagoon that are usually overtaken by deckchair operators from the early morning, Moviment Graffitti on Saturday organised its second action, this time with a crowd of members of the general public, as tensions increased.
Dressed in beachwear and holding up signs with slogans such as ‘Comino Belongs to Everyone’, ‘Give us Back Comino’ and ‘Greed Pollutes’, they removed deckchairs occupying the land overlooking Comino’s clear blue waters.
During speeches by members of the environmental organisation, several people were seen placing the deckchairs and umbrellas back on the very public land in dispute.
Andre Callus, one of Moviment Graffitti’s frontmen, noted how this was allowed to happen despite them having advised the police about what was taking place, and even though the space was meant to have been kept clear to allow for the demonstration, which had been approved according to law.
“This is the extent of the power that these people have,” he said, “even controlling the authorities and the police. This space had to be kept free by law, and still, the police have bowed their heads to their interests.”
Callus explained that it was Moviment Graffitti that had advised the police to attend the protest after he received information from several sources that the business owners on Comino would be bringing in their people to occupy the space in question.
Addressing the crowd, Graffitti member Christine Cassar noted that since the last action, the only change that had taken place – an order for a small stretch of sand to be kept free of deckchairs – was “insignificant”.
The group’s demands, however, go far beyond that and are wider in scope in their intention to address the web of commercial interests that have seized the Blue Lagoon.
She informed those present that Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo is refusing to reply to questions about the situation in Comino and that a committee is seeing to the situation. Cassar also noted the refusal to reply to parliamentary questions about the committee’s composition – it seems like the committee, put together in 2016, does not even exist.
The Shift had revealed that Bartolo’s father and uncles are the owners of Pleasure and Leisure Ltd, a company that operates under the brand name Oh Yeah Malta and which runs daily ferry trips to Comino.
The group reiterated its demands for “immediate action to stop the damage being done to the Blue Lagoon and to return the beach to the people”.
The demands are that deckchairs and umbrellas are only set up at the request of a person physically present on the spot, and that at no time should they occupy more than 30% of the entire area of the Blue Lagoon. Large boats disembarking hundreds of tourists at a time should be prohibited from Comino and the number of kiosks in the bay should “decrease drastically” and be limited to two small kiosks without music.
The fourth demand is to place restrictions on the type and amount of waste generated, which should be collected every day in the evening to avoid rat infestations, which cause considerable damage to the natural environment.
Comino, a Natura 2000 site, is “fragile” and requires “serious protection” but business and commercial interests on the island are only increasing, the Graffitti activists said. “Urgent action is needed to save Comino from environmental damage.”
Addressing the crowd, and in line with Graffitti’s first demand, Qala Mayor Paul Buttigieg told those in attendance that Hondoq ir-Rummien, a bay in his locality located across the channel from the Blue Lagoon, had the same issue with deckchairs until a few years ago.
He explained how he had managed to come to an arrangement with operators for deckchairs to only be set up at the request of a person physically present on the beach and requesting one.
“Why isn’t the same thing being done here?” he asked.
“We don’t want Comino to be turned into a private lido, it belongs to the people and it should be given back to the people, for free,” Callus concluded, but not without adding a retort to Captain Morgan owner Michael Zammit Tabona who had called the activist group a bunch of “idiots”.
“One of the pigs who want to keep pigging out called us idiots,” he said, “idiots maybe, but fools and cowards, we are not.”
Callus pledged that the battle for the public land would continue.