Protesters gathered in some 15 boats to take a stand against the planned extension to the cruise liner terminal in Valletta, which they said would leave their traditional ‘dgħajsa tal-pass’ without a landing site.
The boaters gathered in front of Lascaris Wharf on Thursday afternoon, temporarily suspending their service to protest Infrastructure Malta’s plans for the area.
Għaqda tal-Barklori said the planned extension would “eradicate” cultural heritage and kill the livelihood of boaters (barklori) that have operated the traditional colourful water taxis dating back hundreds of years.
In comments to The Shift, Għaqda Tal-Barklori Secretary Lawrence Mizzi said that Infrastructure Malta officials only had “empty words” to offer when the organisation attempted to discuss the plans with them.
“This is our island’s heritage. The government is duty-bound to protect it,” he added.
‘Labour has forgotten the man on the street’
In a statement, the association said: “The Labour government appears to have forgotten the man on the street”.
They added that the government’s decisions were threatening the livelihood of Maltese families, leading to “the downfall of Malta’s cultural heritage”.
They carried signs which included messages such as “the worker has been forgotten by the Labour government”, “traitors of a Maltese tradition”, and “dagħjsa tal-pass straight for the museum”.
Earlier this week, Infrastructure Malta started preparatory works for pit holes “less than a metre” away from tourists walking along the historic Lascaris Wharf, close to the old Customs House across from the Barrakka Gardens lift.
“It appears that Infrastructure Malta is ready to spend millions on building a new jetty that will take over the traditional landing site of the Barklori but has no funds to protect Malta’s cultural heritage,” they said.
According to the Għaqda tal-Barklori, Infrastructure Malta has refused to discuss the planned extension with them and failed to provide a suitable and safe alternative boat landing both during and after the works.
No suitable alternative
In further comments to The Shift, Mizzi said Infrastructure Malta had offered an area at the edge of the proposed cruise terminal.
“This would be dangerous for us as it is right in the path of the sea swell,” Mizzi said.
“We told Infrastructure Malta: ‘So you know about the sea swell, you’re going to place large rocks as defence, and you want to place us [the barklori] there?’ It just doesn’t make sense,” he added.
Speaking at the protest, Għaqda tal-Barklori member Ivan Agius said Infrastructure Malta’s suggestion to place the traditional boaters between the larger Gozo and Three Cities ferries did not make sense either.
“We should not have to be content with the dangerous wakes that these ferries create, both for me, my son, who will be working as a boatsman himself, and also for the tourists,” he said.
“Before the  election, they claimed there were no funds for this project, giving us peace of mind, but once the election was over, suddenly the funds reappeared,” he continued.
The Għaqda tal-Barklori have made a list of demands, including a discussion with the authorities in search of a solution “that makes sense”.
They also demanded a temporary safe alternative to their current site and a written agreement that guarantees a permanent landing site “which has been agreed to by all parties, that respects Malta’s cultural heritage, our work and our rights.”
They said, “It is a huge injustice that despite entire communities and generations of Barklori having invested their energy, passion, efforts and personal finances so that the ‘dghajsa tal-pass’ remains a living part of Malta’s culture, this is not being acknowledged by the government”.
The works, PA/01602/20, were approved in February 2022 without any consultation with the boaters operating in the area and are part of a planned extension to the cruise liner terminal first proposed in 2019.
If we make the quay 50 meters shorter, they can stay where they are. In view of our proposed move away from mass tourism, not an unreasonable solution. However if that really is not possibele, the only decent spot is between the Birgu and Gozo ferries.