When Labour block­aded Marsaxlokk har­bour

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

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.

Edi­tor’s pick

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’.

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