When Labour blockaded Marsaxlokk harbour
It is difficult to understand the reasoning of many people, especially when viewed over a long period of time.
On Monday, the gas tanker entered Marsaxlokk Bay. It was welcomed by the general indifference of residents and only by a small coterie of press photographers and media people.
To say the general attitude of residents was one of indifference must be qualified. As this paper reported yesterday, they affected indifference when faced with television cameras but then, when they were on an off-the-record basis and knew their names would not be mentioned, they opened up.
They admitted they were worried but then they added they were worried most because they do not know if they can go out to fish when the second tanker enters the bay to replenish the LNG tanker.
As we report in this issue, the Labour-led Birżebbuġa local council even refused to hold a debate on the issue and put it off till a later date.
But things were not always like that. In at least another occasion, Labour acted even when the risk and danger were not in the same category as the gas tanker.
In June 1988, a British aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal, visited Malta. Labour, still sore at having lost the election, and under the fiercely proneutrality Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, raised a huge hullabaloo because the British would not say the aircraft carrier carried nuclear weapons.
Now one can argue this for a long time but objectively an aircraft carrier with nukes poses a less risk than an old tanker changed over to store LNG. Anyway, we know what happened. But certainly there was no risk for Marsaxlokk since the aircraft carrier was outside the Grand Harbour, and eventually ended up in St Paul’s Bay. To quote from a book of memoirs by Sammy Meilaq: On the eve of the arrival of the ‘Ark Royal’, a small group met and Mr Meilaq came up with the idea of blocking the entrance to the Grand Harbour with a ship, the ‘Copper Mountain’ which had been abandoned at the dockyard.
“Everything was kept secret until a break (lunch)time meeting in Cospicua, addressed, once again by KMB, who, again, had no idea what was being planned. Instead of returning to their place of work, the workers followed their leaders to Parlatorio Wharf and “freed” the ship.
“It is not an easy task to manoeuvre a ship without power in the harbour, and there was a troublesome East wind blowing and the ship almost hit the Valletta side. Meanwhile, Michael Parnis led the Marsa Shipyard workers out on the streets so that any attack by the armed forces on the dockyard workers would be delayed or blocked.
“The ship was successfully manoeuvred to block the harbour’s entrance and that was it. The ‘Ark Royal’ was kept out.
“The next day, the government, helped by AFM, removed the ship from the harbour’s entrance.”
What many do not remember, or know, is that there were actually two ship hijacks.
Sammy Meilaq writes: “Michael Parnis and Marie Louise Coleiro, secretary general of the Labour Party, and Labour MPs John Dalli and Alfred Portelli blocked the Marsaxlokk harbour by anchoring tugboats and barges in the middle of the port thus blocking ‘Ark Royal’ from entering.”
“Meanwhile, Labour organised a mass meeting on both sides of the harbour. While this was going on, and AFM patrol boats and helicopters circled around, some workers unhitched another ship, the ‘Olympic Rainbow’ which was berthed at Boilerwharf allowing it to swing outward towards Valletta.
“Meanwhile, Lorry Sant and other dockyard workers commandeered three tugboats and battled it out with the AFM patrol boats, replying to the AFM’s tear gas canisters with the tug boats’ water jets. The patrol boats had to withdraw.
“Mr Meilaq does not say how it all ended except that ‘Ark Royal’ had to berth at St Paul’s Bay and that the aircraft carrier suffered the same indignity later on that same year in Melbourne. He describes this second hijack as a ‘complete success’.