Environment, Energy and Enterprise Minister Miriam Dalli and Economy, EU Funds and Lands Minister Silvio Schembri have been roped into the tuna ranching stench saga that has been afflicting residents of certain parts of Birzebbuga and its environs for weeks on end.
Moviment Graffitti and Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birzebbuga on Friday wrote directly to the two ministers to call on them to “immediately suspend the operations” of a tuna waste recycling plant set up by Malta’s aquaculture operators, which is treating and exporting waste from Malta’s fish farms.
The letter comes after streets in the locality were recently flooded with fish remains after a sewage leak from the processing plant, with “the ensuing stench has made life miserable for the people having to live with it”.
“This factory,” the organisations told the ministers in their call for action, “has brought about squalid conditions previously inexistent in the neighbourhoods of Birzebbuga, Bengħisa and Ħal Far, which are having to live in extremely dire conditions due to the unbearable stench and sewage leaks coming from the new tuna recycling factory in Hal Far.
The facility is being run by Aquaculture Resources Ltd, which is made up of Malta’s main players in the fish farming industry and counts among its shareholders: Charles Azzopardi (Azzopardi Fisheries), Joseph Caruana (Fish and Fish Ltd) and Saviour Ellul (MFF Limited).
Charlon Gouder is the company’s director. Gouder, Minister Dalli’s former colleague in the Super ONE newsroom, had previously worked for former environment minister Jose Herrera, who held the fish farming industry under his ministerial portfolio.
Economy Minister Silvio Schembri visited the plant while it was still under construction last May, where he described it as a clear example of where the country wants to go in future projects.
“Thanks to this project,” he said, “not only will a new industry be created, generating economic growth, but the waste will also be recycled into new products, in line with our goals for a circular economy.”
Noting the Birzebbuga Local Council’s recent meeting with the Environment and Resources Authority and the Water Services Corporation, the organisations said they appreciate the Council’s efforts to resolve the situation.
But, they insist, “the action taken by the authorities is insufficient to curb the problems that residents are daily and unjustly having to face because of this tuna plant.
“They are therefore calling for the immediate suspension of operations at the plant and insist it is back in action only when it can eradicate the odour pollution it is currently emitting.”
Gouder, however, recently insisted with The Shift, that “There have been several inspections by the ERA. All the necessary investment has taken place to treat both air and wastewater before discharge back into the environment/water network.”
The ERA had approved an application for an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) permit for the facility at the end of September, while the Planning Authority had given the plant its stamp of approval in March of last year.
Yet, residents of the surrounding areas have been complaining about the stench emanating from the €11 million plant since its first week of operations.
“The profits of the tuna industry can never come before the health and safety of residents and the environments in which they live,” the two organisations said on Friday.
“This simple and logical call for action must be heard and if it falls on deaf ears, we pledge to take all necessary action to ensure that the health and quality of life of the people are given the priority they deserve.”