Fishermen still have no idea how they will be affected by LNG refueling operations
• 273-metre tanker sails briefly into Marsaxlokk but power station switch-on date remains elusive
Marsaxlokk fishermen still have no idea whether they will be allowed to sail in and out of the bay when the gas storage tanker at Delimara is being refueled by a second vessel.
The Armada LNG Mediterrana sailed into Marsaxlokk early yesterday morning in what was described by Minister without portfolio Konrad Mizzi as a “historic event.”
The 273-metre vessel has since sailed out to sea, where it will be carrying out further sea trials before returning to port later on this week. Dr Mizzi promised yesterday that the relevant safety and maritime impact studies will be published for public consultation in the coming days.
But fishermen who spoke to this newspaper yesterday said that a question that has been in their minds ever since the project was announced more than three years ago remains unanswered. “We have no idea how the refueling operation will affect us. We still have no idea whether the port will be closed. Will we be allowed to go out to sea?” one fisherman asked.
Another fisherman pointed out that a one-day delay could cost them a chunk of their income.
Electrogas yesterday did not say when the first fuel delivery operation would take place, but said such operations would take place every eight weeks.
The Malta Independent also spoke to another fisherman who was staring curiously at the LNG tanker from a sandy beach near the San Luċjan tower. Like the other two before him, the man did not wish to be named. “I believe that up to three fourths of the Marsaxlokk fishermen are against the project in its current form. But most are afraid to speak their minds and always say they are in favour when TV news cameras are pointed at them. Some fear reprisals if they complain, including through the fisheries department.” The man added: “This is not just the fishermen but the residents of
Marsaxlokk in general. Before the election they had spoken about two on-shore tanks of 40,000 cubic metres, not this monstrosity (the tanker.) The government did not have a mandate for this.”
No date for power station commissioning
In the meantime, the government and Electrogas yesterday failed to say when the power station will become operational and when the gas pipeline between Sicily and Malta will be completed.
Dr Mizzi was quizzed by journalists after he addressed a press conference near Fort Delimara, shortly after the Armada LNG Mediterrana sailed in. “This is a historic event,” said Dr Mizzi, “for it marks the end of the use of Heavy Fuel Oil.”
The minister said construction of the project is now complete. This includes the conversion of half of the BWSC plant to run on gas. The ship – which is technically called a Floating Storage Unit – is only a temporary solution, he said, and will no longer be used when the gas pipeline project is completed. But Dr Mizzi could not give a definite timeline, saying only that the exact undersea route between Sicily and Malta will be identified by next year. He denied that the tanker would be used for “decades.”
The minister also failed to say when the power station will become operational. The project is already one and a half years late – the original deadline was March 2015. He said that once the IPPC permit was granted the power plant would start functioning.
Dr Mizzi said the safety and maritime impact assessment studies will be published in the coming weeks and will be put up for public consultation. Asked by this newspaper why public consultation on the studies was only being held now, after the ship has sailed in, the minister insisted that the public had already been consulted before the planning application was issued. When we pointed out that no safety and maritime studies had been published at that point, Dr Mizzi said some studies had been available at the time. “These studies were reviewed by the relevant authorities, including the OHSA and the Civil Protection Department,” he said.
Electrogas project manager Catherine Halpin said yesterday’s tests were successful. “The ship basically turned on a sixpence, as was projected in the simulations.” She explained that the vessel is still empty and will head back out to sea for more safety and sea trials. People should be aware that there will be some activity in the harbour in the coming days, she said, explaining that the vessel will return to Marsaxlokk in a few days’ time. It will first be connected to the storm mooring, before berthing alongside the jetty.
Pressed to say when the first LNG transfer would take place – the process will involve a second tanker to fill up the FSU’s tanks – Ms Halpin said the priority right now was to conduct the safety trials. No date for the fuel transfer was given.
Asked about the bright lighting system on the jetty, Ms Halpin said this was an operational necessity and that necessary light impact studies had been carried out.
Electrogas Malta CEO Franz Doefler said all components of the project were undertaken by reliable international partners who had a very good safety track record. He said some 3.5 million man hours had been put into the project with only one incident – at the Greek company that built the regasification unit. The worker made a full recovery, the CEO pointed out. “We hope to keep this track record,” he said, adding that “Electrogas cares about people and the environment.”
Konrad Mizzi also insisted that “the best engineers from around the world” were involved in the project and that all components were “best of breed, best of class.”
Minister Mizzi could not give a definite timeline, saying only that the exact undersea route between Sicily and Malta will be identified by next year
Minister Konrad Mizzi