After Wednesday’s earthquake: civil defence

 

 

On Wednesday an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude on the Richter scale was reported in the Maltese islands. As far as we are aware no damage was caused, yet it would be appropriate to consider a number of relevant issues.

Are we prepared for the consequences of a much stronger earthquake which would cause considerable damage including the potential death of a substantial number of persons?

Around two years ago, the Civil Protection Department (CPD) in conjunction with the Sicilian counterparts carried out an earthquake simulation exercise in Gozo which, undoubtedly, provided CPD personnel with valuable experience. It is not known if the department has been involved in any subsequent exercises, either locally or abroad, nor is it known if any specific operational changes were implemented by the CPD as a result of the lessons learned in the 2015 exercise.

It is, however, pertinent to point out that it is not only the CPD, the Police, the AFM and the Health Authorities that need adequate and continuous training to cope with the aftermath of a strong earthquake in the Maltese Islands. In addition to the operators of the different sectors of the infrastructure (energy, water, transport) the civilian population should also receive training for this unlikely eventuality.

Simulation exercises involving the civilian population are necessary as they would develop at local level an ability to manage a disaster. We need to start from scratch in building up a civil defence corps worthy of the name, coordinated and trained by the CPD but based in each locality in Malta and Gozo.

It is a responsibility which, together with adequate resources, should be assigned to local councils under the watchful eye of the CPD.

This would be the appropriate way to build up an adequate general level of preparedness for disaster management. The involvement of the local councils would also ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities are addressed. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridden or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and this requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has little if any access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency that needs to be addressed forthwith.

Those in charge of disaster management in time of need require the ability to communicate with people having impaired hearing. Is anyone at the CPD, the Police, the AFM or the Health Authorities able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this communication deficiency on the part of the authorities is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management, it is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around 500 known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who could have remained below the radar, this is an issue that is manageable primarily at local level.

The CPD is one of the youngest departments and to date it has given sterling service in fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. We look forward to the next step in its development: ensuring that training in disaster management is an integral part of the services of local authorities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 27 August 2017

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The farce continues

gas at Marsaxlokk

Tomorrow, the Environment and Resources Authority will meet in public to consider the approval of an amendment to the IPPC permit regulating the operations of the power station at Delimara. It is an amendment to an already existing permit as a result of which a definite decision concerning the switch-over to gas-operated turbines will be taken.

The Environment and Resources Authority has been in operation for some months – since February – but this will be the first time it will be possible to observe it in action in a public session.

Last Thursday the Authority, through its secretary to the ‘Environmental permitting-Development Control Commission’ informed those who had taken part in the public consultation that a 71-page document containing responses to feedback received during the public consultation was available online at http://era.org.mt/en/Pages/IPPC-Public-Consultation.aspx.

We are now accustomed to having important information being made available (if at all) at a very late hour and at a time when most people interested in the Delimara public debate are preparing for a well-earned Christmas break.

The document made available last Thursday afternoon, just one working day before the public hearing, is the only document containing the views of the Authority on the subject, even though these views are mostly expressed telegraphically. At the time of writing, I am not aware of the recommendation which the Environment Directorate has submitted for the consideration of the Board of the Authority, that is whether and to what extent it is satisfied with the documentation submitted for its consideration.

The said documentation runs to over 15,000 pages spread into around 300 files of different sizes which could not be adequately examined during the short time available for public consultation, even though this was slightly extended.

Public opinion is not worried about the change to LNG in the operation of the power station. It is, however, still worried about issues of safety. These worries are compounded by the fact that a document prepared by the Civil Protection Department regarding the External Emergency Plan for the Delimara Power Station has been partly excluded from the public consultation exercise. As already stated in a previous article (TMIS, 27 November: A Secret Plan for Delimara) this runs counter to the provisions of the Seveso III Directive of the European Union which has been transposed into the Maltese Statute book through the Control of Major Hazard Regulations of 2015 which provides that: “The Civil Protection Department shall ensure that the public concerned is given early opportunity to give its opinion on external emergency plans when they are being established or substantially modified.”

The Civil Protection Department is failing in its duty to consult. However, by failing to act on the Civil Protection Department’s dereliction of duty, the Environment and Resources Authority, as the ultimate regulator on the matter, is transforming this failure into an abusive exercise of its authority.

How is it possible to voice your opinion on a document that is still shrouded in secrecy?

This is only possible if what should be public consultation is transformed into a farce. The farce continues tomorrow – Monday.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 December 2016

A Secret Plan for Delimara

external-emergency-plan-censored

The Seveso Directive of the European Union is a legal instrument originally enacted in 1982. Subsequently amended, the present version was enacted in 2012 and is referred to as the Seveso III Directive.

Its full name is “Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC”. It has also been transposed into Maltese legislation through the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2015.

As the technical name implies, the Seveso III Directive seeks to regulate sites which have the potential for major industrial accidents. It seeks to achieve its aim primarily through prevention but also by planning to minimise the impact of accidents which may occur on such sites.

The Directive was originally enacted as a result of the industrial accident in the Italian town of Seveso in 1976, when toxic fumes emitted from a chemical plant contaminated the surrounding residential area. It aims to improve the safety of such sites, both the safety of the employees working in such sites and the safety of residents, and the commercial communities, in the area.

One such site is the Delimara power station. This site has to follow the rules set out in the Seveso III Directive and in the Maltese regulations which transpose it into Maltese law.

Through these regulations, the Civil Protection Department is responsible for prepare emergency plans to be applied in the event of an accident.  There has to be an internal plan, one that applies to the industrial plant itself, and an external emergency plan, that applies beyond the boundaries of the plant.

The internal emergency plan is drawn up in conjunction with the management of the plant and discussed with the staff. Members of staff are undoubtedly trained not just in the correct running of the plant but also with regard to the protocol they should follow if there is an accident.

The external emergency plan concerns residents and business in the vicinity of the industrial plant. The Seveso III Directive requires that such a plan be subject to public consultation. In fact, regulation 10(5) of the Control of Major Hazard Regulations 2015 states  “The Civil Protection Department shall ensure that the public concerned is given early opportunity to give its opinion on external emergency plans when they are being established or substantially modified.”

Today is, in fact, the closing day for a public consultation exercise organised by the Environment and Resources Authority in respect of the Delimara Power Station. Among the documents which the Authority published for consultation one finds a report entitled External Emergency Plan prepared by the Civil Protection Department. However, the report made available is only part of the full report as the most important part – the part on operational issues – is missing. The available partial-report makes interesting reading, but  we are informed that the censored part has been removed as its availability would be “a threat to national security”.

Those running the Department of Civil Protection are maybe not aware that they have the duty to inform and that in this day and age they have no authority to act as a big brother. The public has the right to be informed and this right is the prerequisite for its active involvement in the formulation and eventual approval of the external emergency plan.

In a democratic society the right of the public to be informed is a basic element of good governance. By opting for secrecy, the Department of Civil Protection has chosen to take a completely different path – one that ignores the citizen and his right to participate in meaningful actions and decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 November 2016

Konsultazzjoni pubblika farsa

cpd-external-emergency-plan

Bdiet il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-permess operazzjonali tal-power station f’Delimara. Dan il-permess huwa magħruf bħala IPPC permit. Dan għax ikun ipproċessat skond dak li tistabilixxi d-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja imsejħa Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC).

Bħala parti minn dan il-proċess, ħarġu għall-informazzjoni ta’ kulħadd, 293 rapport ta’ qisien li jvarjaw. Uħud qosra u oħajn donnhom ma jispiċċaw qatt għax fihom mijiet ta’ paġni. Uħud b’linġwaġġ li jinftiehem malajr u oħrajn li trid iddum tomgħod biex tifhem.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika oriġinalment kienet intenzjonata li ddum 30 ġurnata, il-minimu meħtieġ skond il-liġi. Wara diversi protesti, dan il-perjodu żdied għal 40 ġurnata. Dan xorta m’huwiex biżżejjed, għax is-sens komun jgħidlek li l-perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni għandu jkun twil skont kemm hemm informazzjoni xi tkun ikkunsidrata.

Meta t-tul ta’ żmien għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika ma jkunx proporzjonat mal-kwantità ta’ informazzjoni li teħtieġ illi tkun eżaminata, ma nistgħux ngħidu li din il-konsultazzjoni tkun qed issir bis-serjetà. Tkun qed issir għax bil-fors biex tonora l-kelma tal-liġi. Tkun konsultazzjoni taparsi.

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni li qed niffaċċjaw fil-każ tal-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar l-impjant tal-power station ta’ Delimara. Ir-rapporti ppubblikati, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom jeħtieġu li jkunu eżaminati bir-reqqa biex inkunu nistgħu nifhmu dak li qiegħed ikun propost fihom. Fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi, l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi ilha x-xhur fil-pussess ta’ dawn ir-rapporti, inkluż uħud li forsi dehrilha li kellha tordna li jsirulhom xi tibdil jew inkella li kellhom jinkludu spjegazzjonijiet addizzjonali. L-awtorità taf kemm jirrikjedu żmien biex ikunu eżaminati dawn ir-rapporti, għax l-uffiċjali tagħha ilhom ix-xhur jeżaminawhom!

Hemm eċċezzjoni waħda għal dan kollu. Ir-rapport intitolat External Emergency Plan imħejji mid-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili għandu parti minnu nieqsa. Fil-paġna 21 ta’ dan ir-rapport hemm it-titlu tas-sezzjoni : Section B Operational. Imbagħad fil-paġna immedjatament warajha hemm nota li tinfurmana illi l-kumplament tas-sezzjoni hi nieqsa minħabba illi kieku din l-informazzjoni kellha tkun ippubblikata, din il-pubblikazzjoni tkun ta’ theddida għas-siġurtà nazzjonali.

Din hi farsa. Hi nuqqas kbir ta’ serjetà. L-ewwel jimlewna bir-rapporti u ma jagħtuniex ħin biżżejjed biex naqrawhom, biex  mbagħad dwar dan ir-rapport jiċċensuraw ukoll il-kontenut.

Għalfejn poġġew dan ir-rapport għad-diskussjoni jekk il-parti l-iktar essenzjali għad-diskussjoni tneħħiet? F’soċjetà demokratika dan m’huwiex aċċettabbli. Bla ebda dubju hemm mod kif ikun possibli li tingħata informazzjoni biżżejjed u tkun tista’ issir konsultazzjoni pubblika bis-serjetà mingħajr ma issir ħsara lis-sigurtà nazzjonali.

Irridu naraw kif ser jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet għax huwa  meħtieġ serjetà  ħafna iktar minn hekk jekk irridu li l-konsultazzjoni pubblika ma tkunx farsa.

Ippubblikat fuq l-Illum : 30 t’Ottubru 2016

A farce in the making

external-emergency-plan-censored

 

Public consultation on the Delimara operational permit has commenced. This permit has to be issued in terms of the provisions of the EU Directive  on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC).

Feeding this public consultation exercise, last week the Environment and Resources Authority released 293 reports detailing information on different aspects of the Delimara power station. These reports are available on the authority’s website as well as at the offices of Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa local councils. They run into thousands of pages – varying from those which are very short to others which are substantial in length.

Originally, the public consultation exercise was planned to last 30 days – the minimum time  established by law. After a number of protests, this was increased to 40 days, which is still too short,  given the substantial amount of information that must be digested and analysed. Common sense should have dictated a much longer consultation period as the lack of sufficient time to examine the information released will bring into question the validity of the whole exercise.

The  reports require considerable time to be examined in order that their contents are understood in their proper perspective. Most of these reports were submitted to the Environment and Resources Authority many months ago and in the intervening period have been examined by officials of the Authority, who, in a number of cases, requested amendments or additions. These changes were identified by the Authority’s officers as a result of their examination of the said reports over a number of months.

It stands to reason that the Environment and Resources Authority is, on the basis of its own work,  fully aware that the real time required for  this public consultation would be in the region of four months and that anything less is insufficient.

There is, however, one exception. The report entitled “External Emergency Plan” drawn up by the Civil Protection Department, has been censored. A whole section has been removed and, as such, is not being subjected to the current public consultation exercise. Page 21 of the report contains the tile of the section : Section B Operational. On the following page we then have a note which informs us that “Information in the Operational Section (Section B) of this document is being withheld from publication on grounds on national security”.

This is a farce. The most important part of the document that requires dissemination and feedback has been withheld. This report should have been placed in the public domain in its entirety, as it is essential for those members of the public who are interested (or preoccupied) on the issue as they live too close for comfort to the Delimara power station. They  need the whole report in order to be informed and thus be in a position to give their reactions. Familiarity on the part of Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa residents with the Operational Section of the External Emergency Plan would eventually be put into use in the civil protection drills and simulation exercises which have to be organised by the Civil Protection Department on a regular basis at both Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa.

The Civil Protection Department leadership team should realise, even at this stage, that the local population must own the operational plans. These plans will not work if the local population is not aware of at least the basic contents of these plans.

The public consultation process is a basic and essential component of the workings of a democratic society. Tampering with the required information, or unnecessarily restricting the consultation period, will transform it into a farce.

It is for these reasons that the Delimara power station consultation process is a farce in the making!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 30 October 2016

Wara t-tejatrin ta’ Singapore …………….. lil hinn mill-partiġjaniżmu politiku

Delimara floating gas stirage terminal

 

Qed joqrob il-jum li fih it-tanker għall-ħażna tal-gass tal-power station jidħol u jitqiegħed fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk. Qed jgħidulna li dan ser ikun temporanju, jiġifieri għal ftit taż-żmien, sakemm jitlestew l-istudji dwar il-pipline tal-gass bejn Sqallija u Malta. Ovvjament trid iżżid ukoll iż-żmien biex il-pipeline jitqieghed f’qiegħ il-baħar inkluż ukoll il-perjodu tal-finanzjament, tendering u commissioning. Mhux xahar u tnejn.

Kemm ser ikun twil dan il-perjodu temporanju? Jiddependi mix-xogħol li sar diġà. Peró ma neħodiex bi kbira jekk dan iż-żmien ikun bejn 5 u 8 snin.

Sadanittant hemm il-ħtieġa li jkun ikkunsidrat il-permess operattiv tal-power station taħdem bil-gass f’Delimara. Dan il-permess ikun irid jissodisfa tlett tipi ta’ direttivi/regolamenti. Dawk dwar l-impjanti industrijali, dawk dwar l-impatti ambjentali (IPPC – Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) u dawk dwar il-ħarsien minn inċidenti industrijali u l-impatti kemm ambjentali kif ukoll dawk ta’ protezzjoni ċivili (Direttivi ta’ Seveso).

Dan kollu jkun ikkunsidrat mill-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u Riżorsi flimkien ma’ awtoritajiet oħra, prinċipalment id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili u l-Awtorità għall-Ħarsien tas-Saħħa fuq il-Post tax-Xogħol. Imma ser ikun hemm ukoll bla dubju ħtieġa  ta’ eżami sewwa ta’ issues ta’ navigazzjoni minn Trasport Malta minħabba kemm it-tanker stazzjonarju (marbut mal-moll) fil-bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kif ukoll minħabba li madwar 8 darbiet fis-sena ser jidħlu tankers bil-ħtiġijiet tal-gass skond kemm tkun qed tikkonsma gass il-Power Station ta’ Delimara.

Dawn huma kollha affarijiet li ġew diskussi f’ċerta dettall madwar sentejn ilu meta kien qed ikun diskuss il-permess ta’ żvilupp quddiem il-MEPA. Dakinnhar kien intqal li dawn kollha kienu affarijiet li riedu jkunu deċiżi iktar tard. Preċiżament issa hu dak il-mument, matul dawn il-ġimgħat u xhur li ġejjin.

Ser naraw matul il-ġimgħat li ġejjin dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ sigurtà huwa u jkun trasferit il-gass mit-tankers ġejjin u sejrin għal ġot-tanker stazzjonarju. Jekk hux veru li għal ċertu ħin il-port ikun jeħtieġlu illi jkun magħluq u kif dan (jekk minnu) ser jeffettwa l-operat tal Freeport u tas-sajjieda.

Irridu naraw kemm il-miżuri ta’ sigurtà fl-operazzjoni tal-power station huma f’posthom u xi drills ser ikunu meħtieġa (inkluż il-frekwenza tagħhom) biex ikun assigurat illi l-popolazzjoni residenzjali fil-viċinanzi tkun imħejjija għal kull eventwalità, anke jekk remota.

Wara l-inċidenti ta’ tmiem il-ġimgħa fil-ħruq tan-nar tal-festa ta’ Marsaxlokk bla dubju jridu jittieħdu prewkazzjonijiet ħafna iktar biex ikun assigurat li dawn it-tip ta’ inċidenti, jekk iseħħu, jinżammu l-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun mill-power station ta’ Delimara u l-ħażna tal-gass.

Dan kollu dwaru hemm l-obbligu li jkun hemm konsultazzjoni pubblika mar-residenti effettwati, dawk ta’ Marsaxlokk prinċipalment, imma probabbilment ukoll dawk ta’ Birżebbuġa.

L-operazzjoni tal-power station bil-gass bla dubju ser tnaqqas it-tniġġż tal-arja u b’mod ġenerali ittejjeb l-impatti ambjentali. Il-kostruzzjoni tal-pipe tal-gass eventwalment tnaqqas u tbiegħed il-perikli. Imma sa ma jasal dak il-jum, il-possibiltà tal-perikli, anke jekk remoti xorta qegħda wara l-bieb tagħna.

Lil hinn mill-partiġġjaniżmu politiku għandna l-obbligu li nassiguraw li l-affarijiet isiru sewwa. Biex dan isir għandna l-obbligu li neżaminaw kull pass li jsir. Għax b’hekk biss kulħadd joqgħod attent li jagħmel xogħolu sewwa.

ippubblikat fuq iNews : it-Tlieta 2 t’Awwissu 2016

Ħruġ ta’ żjut fil-Port Ħieles: it-tielet darba din is-sena

freeport.aerial viw

Erġajna għat-tielet darba.

Kmieni dal-għodu kien hemm rapport li kien hemm roqgħa żejt fil-baħar fl-inħawi tal-Port Ħieles. Transport Malta kienet qed tinvestiga. Il-ħaddiema tad-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili kienu qed jieħdu passi kemm biex iż-żjut jinġabru kif ukoll biex sakemm jinġabru ma jinfirxux u b’hekk il-ħsara tkun l-inqas possibli.

Jidher li l-inċident inqala waqt operazzjoni ta’ bunkering ship-to-ship.

Huwa tajjeb li l-awtoritajiet huma attrezzati biex jieħdu passi mill-ewwel. Imma issa li donnu dawn l-inċidenti qed iseħħu spiss (diġa t-tielet darba din is-sena) irid ikun assigurat li jittieħdu miżuri korrettivi dwar kif isir dan it-tip ta’ xogħol fil-Port Ħieles.

Ir-rapporti tal-investigazzjoni li qed tagħmel Transport Malta huwa neċessarju li jittieħdu passi dwarhom.

Iktar kmieni din is-sena, meta seħħu l-inċidenti l-oħra, Marlene Farrugia, il-Membru Parlamentari li tippresjedi l-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar kienet talbet spjegazzjoni dwar dak li kien qed jiġri.

Nittamaw li dawn l-ispjegazzjonijiet ingħataw ħalli meta ix-xahar id-dieħel jibda l-Parlament tkun tista’ issir diskussjoni serja mhux biss dwar dak li ġara, imma ukoll fuq x’passi qed jittieħdu biex tonqos il-frekwenza ta’ dawn l-inċidenti.

Għas s’issa jidher li dawn l-inċidenti jiżdiedu qegħdin mhux jonqsu!

Next Thursday’s earthquake

earthquake

 

This will be a simulation exercise coordinated by Malta’s Civil Protection Department at 4pm next Thursday in Gozo and three hundred people will be involved.

It will be carried out with EU assistance and in conjunction with the Civil Protection Authorities in Sicily who are partners with the Maltese Civil Protection Department (CPD) in establishing a network within the region that is able to manage seismological disasters.

This exercise signals the coming of age of Malta’s CPD. It has to date delivered sterling service in the areas of fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. Training its staff, and subjecting them to a gruelling simulation exercise, is a gigantic step forward for the CPD. It is the first step of a long journey that is dependent on the dedication of the CPD staff  – which is unlimited – as well as the resources allocated by the state. Such resources, although limited over the years, seem to be slowly trickling down, for a change.

Developing the CPD’s ability to handle disasters will be a major challenge. For a start it will identify its capability to develop effective coordination with the Police Force, with the AFM (Armed Forces) and the health authorities as well as with local councils.

At the end of the day the CPD’s proficiency in disaster management will be measured in terms of its response time as well as the number of lives it saves in such situations. This will generally depend on the severity of the disaster with which it is faced.

This will not only translate into a general level of preparedness. It will also require focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities and in this respect the role of local councils is indispensable. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridded or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and it requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has no access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency which needs to be addressed forthwith.

One small example would suffice: how would the CPD personnel, the police, the AFM – or the health authorities for that matter – communicate with persons with  impaired hearing in the absence of staff able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this deficiency is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management. It is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around five hundred known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who may have remained below the radar, this is an issue which is manageable primarily at a local level. Yet to date it has not been adequately prioritised.

In this context, one would also need to query the level of preparedness of institutions such as Mount Carmel Hospital and id-Dar tal-Providenza. I am informed that even when it comes to fire drills in residential homes for the elderly, the results were not impressive, to put it mildly.

Prompt and effective coordination between the different authorities is crucial in ensuring disaster management. There is a need to test how the different types of equipment used by the CPD, the Police and the AFM interact. Are they compatible? The planned simulation exercise is an opportunity to identify whether, in an actual practice run, matters will work out as planned. Lessons learned in this area will have to be translated into better procurement procedures in the future to ensure smooth interaction between the CPD, the police and the Army.

This will translate into compatible communication equipment as well as adequately maintained vehicles, sea craft and aeroplanes/helicopters which can be used in difficult circumstances. Knowing that maintenance of equipment has never been our forte, this could be quite a challenge!

The simulation exercise on Gozo on 3 September will necessarily lead to a number of lessons learnt which will have to be acted upon in order that Malta’s capability in disaster management is enhanced. This is definitely a bold step in the right direction.

I look forward to the next steps which require the involvement of local authorities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 30 August 2015

Terrimot għall-ġimgħa d-dieħla

cpd_logo

 

Id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili qed jippjana terrimot għall-ġimgħa d-dieħla nhar il-Ħamis 3 ta’ Settembru. Dan ser isir bħala eserċizzju ta’ taħriġ u ser jinvolvi madwar 300 ruħ. It-taħriġ ser isir ġo Għawdex.

Ser jipparteċipaw ukoll madwar sittin persuna teknika mid-Dpartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili ta’ Sqallija.

Din hi aħbar tajba ħafna. Tfisser li bħala pajjiż bdejna inħarsu l-quddiem bis-serjetà f’dan il-qasam. Sal-lum id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili kien assoċjat mat-tifi tan-nar, ma’ inċidenti gravi tat-traffiku u ma problem ta’ għargħar. Issa ser isir pass kbir il-quddiem.

Hu tajjeb li nibdew nippjanaw dwar kif id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili jaħdem f’każ ta’ diżastru nazzjonali bħal terrimot jew għargħar, per eżempju.

Il-kordinazzjoni hi meħtieġa biex l-awtoritajiet differenti jissinkorizzaw il-ħidma ta’ bejniethom. Hu importanti ħafna li d-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili, l-Armata, l-Pulizija u l-awtoritajiet tas-Saħħa f’każ ta’ emerġenza ma jkollhomx diffikultà biex jaħdmu. Għalhekk importanti t-taħriġ.

Imma hemm bżonn ukoll li jkunu involuti l-Kunsilli Lokali għax f’każ ta’ emerġenza huma l-Kunsilli Lokali l-ewwel u l-iktar kuntatt effettiv man-nies.

Ma nistax għalhekk ma ngħidx prosit mistħoqq lid-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili li wasal sa hawn.

Imma dan hu biss il-bidu. Għax hemm ħafna iktar x’isir.

The Freeport’s neighbours at Birżebbuġa

freeport.aerial viw

 

 

Two incidents occurred at the Freeport Terminal last week. The first led to the spill of an oily-like chemical when a container was accidentally hit and part of its contents spilled out into the sea. The second concerned odours resulting from the handling of fuels at the Oil Tanking Terminal.  The second accident led to the precautionary hospitalisation of six employees. The first incident, on the other hand, led to the suspension of bathing activities at Pretty Bay, Birżebbuġa for a number of days.

The accident leading to the spill occurred on Monday, 8 June at around noon. Yet on Friday, 12 June, personnel from the Civil Protection Department were still dealing with the spill as by this time water currents had moved it from the Freeport Terminal to Pretty Bay. It was only late on Tuesday, 16 June that the Environmental Health Department certified that Pretty Bay was once more fit for swimming.

 

Unfortunately, such accidents are bound to happen. That they do not happen more often is only due to adequate training and the availability of the adequately maintained equipment available on  site.

The Freeport Terminal extension – approved five years ago by MEPA and currently in hand – is intended to tap into the container movement market in the Mediterranean even further. In the coming years, this will lead to a increased activity and, consequently, the likelihood of similar but more frequent accidents happening in the future is possible.

The Freeport Terminal activity is only one of a number which, over the years, have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. Delimara Power station and fish- farming  as well as the ever-present fuel reception points at the San Luċjan and Enemalta stations are other examples of industrial activity along the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. We should also remember that, at some time in the near future, bathers at Pretty Bay will also have an enhanced landscape: they will be able to enjoy in full view a gas storage tanker permanently anchored just opposite the sandy beach, along the Delimara part of the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. The spectacle will include its refuelling between eight and 12 times a year, with possibly three of such refuelling instances occurring during the summer bathing season.

The compatibility of this situation with the EU Seveso Directives is debatable.

All this industrial activity may be healthy when considering the general economic requirements of the country on its own. It is, however, generally incompatible with the needs of Birżebbuġa both as a residential community as well as a touristic venue.

Efforts to mitigate the impacts of this industrial activity on the residential community  of Birżebbuġa (and to an extent even on the locality of Marsaxlokk) are in place. Yet with so much going on, the effects of these mitigation measures are necessarily limited. In fact, one wonders why the decision to locate all this industrial activity in the area was not also accompanied by a decision to restrict the development of land for residential use so close to these industrial facilities. In one particular case, at il-Qajjenza in the 1980s,  residential development was accelerated in the vicinity of the then Enemalta Gas Depot. Fortunately the Gas Depot has now been closed down and decommissioned, however it has been moved to the other side of Birżebbuġa, close to the entrance of Marsaxlokk Bay at Bengħajsa.

 

The Freeport Terminal management, supported by MEPA, had also decided to extend the permissible facilities at the Freeport Terminal to include minor repair work to ships and oil rigs. The decision was only reversed when it was faced with the vociferous opposition of the Birżebbuġa residential community led by its local council.

Recently, Transport Malta has added to the summer pleasures at Birżebbuġa. It has planned a mooring area for pleasure craft and small boats adjacent to the swimming zone, right in the middle of Pretty Bay. It seems that Transport Malta does not give a fig about the impact of anti-fouling agents used on a large number of craft berthed very close to a swimming zone.

 

With all this activity going on around Pretty Bay, it is inevitable that that there will be an increase in unacceptable environmental impacts on land, air and sea. Some accidents will also be inevitable.

As a result, however, it is very possible that in future there will be further restrictions on the use of Pretty Bay as a bathing venue. One hopes that this will not be often. It is, however, unavoidable and is the direct result of the ongoing activity which is definitely incompatible with the needs and requirements of the Birżebbuġa residents.

One interesting development at the time of writing is that Hon. Marlene Farrugia, as Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on the Environment and Development Planning, has placed last week’s incidents at the Freeport Terminal on the Parliamentary Committee’s agenda. For the time being, a request for information has been sent out. The resulting discussion will hopefully direct the spotlight on the manner in which successive governments have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port, in the process at times ignoring – and at other times not giving sufficient attention to the plight of the residents in the area.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 21 June 2015