Hundreds of Gozitans hoping to return home on time after spending a long day at work in Malta on Thursday experienced an unexpected delay when one of the Gozo Channel’s vessels plying the 20-minute crossing between the islands was left at its berth and taken off the regular schedule.
The reason for the delay was, however, not related to a mechanical fault on the Greek MV Nikolaos, which is being rented for €13,000 a day by Gozo Channel.
Instead, the ‘problem’ preventing the ship from setting sail was that all its crew members were busy watching their national football team play against Malta at the Ta’ Qali national stadium at 6pm. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
The Shift is informed that the MV Nikolaos carried out her last trip from Mġarr and arrived at Ċirkewwa at 3.18pm, where she was safely berthed. After that, the crew all left on a bus that was waiting to transport them to Ta’ Qali.
The vessel was left at the berth for the rest of the day and resumed operations the following day at 7.56am.
Since it was short one operational vessel, Gozo Channel was unable to satisfy the late afternoon rush hour’s peak demand, and several passengers had to wait long before returning home.
Gozo Channel did not reply to questions on why the MV Nikolaos in not in operation during those hours. But company officials anonymously confirmed the reason was the football match that the MV Nikolaos’ crew, who are predominantly Greek, wanted to watch at all costs.
“We could not believe our ears when we were told to do some extra trips because of a football match,” one crew member from the MV Malita, which had to replace the MV Nikolaos, told The Shift.
“At first, we thought a lot of Gozitans wanted to cross over to Malta to go to Ta’ Qali. Little did we know that it was the vessel’s crew that wanted to stop working since it was them who had an appointment at Ta’ Qali.”
Stranded passengers who spoke to The Shift said that when they asked for a reason behind the delay, they were not given one.
“At the same time, we noticed that while we were waiting for a ship, the MV Nikolaos was standing still at its berth, with all its lights off and no crew on board. Little did we know that the crew had a football match to watch,” one angry passenger said.
Another passenger recounted how he even contacted the Gozo Ministry to see what was happening, but no one was there to answer the phone at customer care.
“We have completely lost the plot on this island,” he commented. “This is how us Gozitans are being treated by a government-run company that is supposedly serving us.”
Gozo Channel has been leasing the 35-year-old Greek vessel for the past three years at a reported cost of €13,000 a day, but the company insists on refusing to provide details on the direct order even though the bill is being footed by the taxpayer.
Just a few weeks ago, The Shift reported that the vessel, which usually has a 700-passenger capacity, was ordered by Transport Malta to carry a maximum of 350 passengers at any given time because of the vessel’s old age and associated safety concerns.
In the meantime, Gozo Channel is losing millions of euro a year, with the government increasing its subsidies exponentially to keep it afloat.