The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

LNG tanker explosion would be as powerful as 50 atomic bombs – engineer

Malta Independent Sunday, 16 February 2014, 11:30 Last update: about 6 years ago

The total energy released in the event of a liquefied natural gas tanker exploding would be as powerful as 50 atomic bombs, an engineer claimed yesterday. Stanley Zammit, who is also a Birzebbuga PN local councillor, made the claim when speaking at a press conference convened by PN MEP candidate, and human rights lawyer, Therese Comodini Cachia. The information could, said Mr Zammit, be easily found online.

He said that the residents of Birzebbuga and Marsaxlokk are not against cheaper utility rates and cleaner air, but they are very concerned over the added risk they will be facing once the floating storage unit (FSU) – a modified tanker that stores liquid gas – will be anchored in the middle of Marsaxlokk port.

“The government has begun working on a strategic project without having a strategic plan”, said Mr Zammit. “How will this project affect the local plans? Why did Enemalta stop considering a pipeline or an offshore storage unit? At a public meeting a few days ago, all the Enemalta executives said was that these would not be viable because of the government’s timeframe and budget. At this same meeting, it was confirmed that a gas cloud could ignite with devastating consequences. This project is being pushed forward too quickly and the planning is weak.”

Mr Zammit also referred to The Malta Independent’s report quoting the concerned captain of the FSU saying that the wave patterns could pose serious risks to the ship. “Who has legal jurisdiction over the ship? What if the captain decides that the ship should be moved? Will he be the one to decide?” Mr Zammit said that strong waves could jeopardise the LNG refuelling process, which is very delicate and has to be done at a temperature of minus 162 degrees Celsius.

He also called on the authorities to answer other relevant questions, such as how the project will affect fishermen and insurance premiums on nearby property and fishing boats. “What will happen to the National Fireworks Festival and to barbeque areas that the public can enjoy today? Ninety-one per cent of Marsaxlokk and Birzebbuga residents are against the inshore FSU. How will they be affected?”

Mr Zammit said that the FSU can be placed far away from land. He mentioned the Livorno LNG plant, where the FSU was anchored 22 miles away from the power plant. He also said that a similar project in Trieste had been scrapped because the authorities had failed to supply all the relevant information.

Insurance companies informing clients their properties are losing value

Mrs Comodini Cachia told members of the press that she has already been approached by a number of people who have been advised by their insurance companies that the value of their Marsaxlokk and Birzebbuga properties will be falling because of the project and the risks attached to it.

The MEP candidate also spoke about The Malta Independent story and said that the captain of the FSU had confirmed residents’ concerns. “We have learnt that the captain himself is worried about the wave patterns and insisted on a breakwater. But this will not happen. The government is not listening to the captain and it is not listening to the residents of Marsaxlokk and Birzebbuga. That is bad administration.”

Mrs Comodini Cachia said that the FSU will not be self-propelled and, in the event of an emergency, it would have to be towed out of the port. The ship will be carrying 160,000 cubic metres of LNG.

“Residents have a right to know what is going on before decisions are taken. They have a right to know how their lives will be affected. They also have a right to know if there are any alternatives to this project. What inconveniences will they have to face? What concerns will they have to live with?” The human rights lawyer, who grew up near Birzebbuga, expressed her concern at the fact that the area where parents take their children to swim will be put at risk.

She also insisted that businesses could be affected and the value of property will fall. “But first and foremost, I believe in people’s right to health and safety. This is not about keeping within timeframes and budgets: this is about people’s lives.”

The MEP hopeful also questioned the government’s choice of having an onshore re-gasification unit and a floating storage facility when these could have been included in one single unit. She asked whether the FSU could place other fuel storage facilities, and the Malta Freeport, at risk. “An explosion aboard the FSU could damage the power station – the country’s single source of power generation. The whole country would be in the dark and we would not even be able to produce drinkable water.”

The government-appointed Consultative Council for the South should also pitch in and advise the government, but it has remained silent so far, Ms Comodini Cachia pointed out.

Malta Freeport demanding guarantees

The Malta Independent yesterday revealed that the Malta Freeport will be demanding guarantees from the Government and Electrogas because of concerns on the FSU that will be placed so near to its terminal. Sources claimed that, while Electrogas may have ironed out some of the concerns raised by the captain of the floating facility, levels of concern on the security of the operation are being sounded by different entities in the area. Amongst these is The Malta Freeport that is reportedly considering the matter legally and will be demanding guarantees on the security of the operation.

Malta could be forced to pay back interconnector funds

In the meantime, in an article published today in this newspaper, PN MEP candidate Stefano Mallia warns that the EU could withdraw funds allocated for the Malta-Sicily interconnector because, with the construction of the LNG plant, it will hardly be used.

Mr Mallia points out that, in the 18-year power purchase agreement, the government has agreed to a penalty clause if a minimum threshold of electricity is not bought. “This condition alone jeopardises the investment made for the electricity interconnector with Sicily. This is why the interconnector will now only be used at just 20 per cent capacity. This fact is leading to serious doubts as to whether the EU will accept that it provided some €20 million for a project that will now de facto almost become redundant.”

According to Mr Mallia, informed sources are saying that the EU could ask for these funds to be returned if it feels that the original scope of the project is being discarded.

The PN MEP candidate also questions whether Malta could also lose the funds allocated for a gas pipeline and warns that the on-land gasifier and floating storage combo is the first one of its kind and should, therefore, not be situated near built-up areas.

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