The Malta Independent 20 January 2022, Thursday

On running the Lbic gauntlet

Noel Grima Sunday, 5 December 2021, 08:32 Last update: about 3 months ago

Experienced mariners tell you that the wind they fear most in Malta is the Lbic (South West) rather than the Grigal (North East).

In the context of the few kilometres that separate Malta from Gozo, this is even more clearly understandable. For the island of Comino offers more than adequate cover in the case of the Grigal whereas there is no corresponding cover in the case of the Lbic.

So on a day like last Monday with a Force 9 wind blowing and wave after wave crashing on the rocks, one comes to appreciate all the more the skill and courage of the sailors and captains that manoeuvre the ships in such treasonable conditions. And correspondingly the crews of the other ships in the Maltese seas, the catamarans and the fast ferry crews, etc.

Even in the worst times of the storm, the Gozo Channel ships kept crossing, switching the route to pass behind Comino and slinking into Mgarr Harbour protected by the cliffs on one side. The passengers arrived, shaken and white-faced, but safe.

The Gozitans are a hardy people. On any day, stormy or calm, by 5.15am you can see them crowding around the pay-booths, in a blaze of tail-lights. They then pack a full day’s work in Malta before returning to their family.

The people of Gozo have learned to live with the risks of their geographic position, keeping an eye on the weather and trimming their plans to it. Thus last Sunday many anticipated their crossing because Monday would be worse, they reasoned. Today weather forecasting has made great strides and is reasonably accurate.

It is very understandable that the residents of Gozo seek more ways to render the hardship less. The new fast ferries are being quite patronised and offer, it would seem, a welcome alternative to plunging in Malta’s crowded roads.

One other alternative to adding on to the already crowded roads would have been the re-instatement of the cargo ship which used to ply between Sa Maison and Gozo. That’s one decision that must be reversed, for the good of all.

One other alternative that gets mentioned in this context and which surfaces at every election is the tunnel between the two islands. I think that by now we have a better idea of the costs and risks of such an undertaking.

I am sure the idea, in itself, is quite feasible, technically speaking though I am not so sure we have the human resources to match, seeing the havoc caused by the recent floods on newly-built roads. We also have now a better understanding of the environmental costs of such an undertaking which outweigh, in my opinion at least, any gains to be made.

On the other hand, the environmental objections that used to be made to block adjustments to the heliport and turn it to a minuscule airport opening the way to further enlargements later on if required, are now less sustainable. The price would have been a couple of fields whereas since the heliport opened in 1995 more than a couple of fields have been lost to development. So where’s the gain?

As it is now, people coming from the UK have to endure a three hours plus flight, a two hour bus ride and a half hour ship crossing before they get to Gozo. No wonder only the really determined make it to the end.

In my mind, Gozo is still very much a Do-it-yourself island which may explain the dearth of big hotels and facilities on the island. This DIY approach is best seen in the innumerable farmhouses and houses one can rent.

The DIY approach offers flexibility but stands or falls with ensuring that standards are kept. In this pandemic time a slipshod approach is the worst one possible. It nullifies all the heroic efforts to overcome the waves and the winds.

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