The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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Channel issues

Noel Grima Sunday, 3 December 2023, 07:32 Last update: about 4 months ago

This time last year we spent some days relaxing in Gozo, in an apartment overlooking Mgarr Harbour. They were sunny yet stormy days.

I spent hours, starting when it was still dark, watching the goings on down in the harbour (and had written about it).

What impressed me, and I’m sure would still impress me today, was the amount of people and cars crossing over and the regularity of the ships also including the fast ferries.

The South West wind and current came in from the open sea with nothing to break it whereas these days the wind and the current come from the opposite side, from the North East, and thus offer an easier crossing, benefitting from the cover offered by Comino and even by Gozo itself.

Otherwise, nothing has changed. Gozo Channel has continued to operate with its own 23-year-old fuel-guzzling ships and with the extremely wasteful Greek ship which costs €10,000 a day (apart from fuel) and which can only take, as has been reported, half its carrying capacity.

Apart from this, no one is talking now about the tunnel or the bridge. Gozo has changed from the quiet and sleepy island we remember, whether we like it or not. As I saw last year, one must also factor in the huge amount of people who daily cross over to Malta for work, for study, for medical appointments.

Nothing has changed, except the deterioration of an added year battling the storms and the extreme heat. A company worth its salt, and the government its owner, would be planning ahead and looking around for a replacement. Not doing anything is the worst choice one can make.

I remember, we remember, when the Nationalist government entered into an agreement with the Malta Shipbuilding to build the three ships. The aim was to give the Marsa facility work, considering it had no orders.

The company and the workforce rose to the challenge. The ships are sturdy workhorses, but based on outmoded technology and fuel.

The company and the government, as I remember, considered but turned down the alternative option of searching for a second-hand ship instead of re-inventing the wheel.

If that is done today, I’m sure there will be a never ending queue of agents wanting to procure a ship with all the consequent controversies. We seem to get our knickers in a twist on matters that should be plain sailing.

I remember in Vancouver ferries that take passengers only and cross over very frequently and with the minimum of fuss. The distance is around the same. Here, everything gets complicated and takes too long.

For some reason which I have never understood they stopped the ferry that used to carry cargo between the Grand Harbour and Gozo. So that means increased pressure on the roads going to the North, added travel time for one and all, and pollution galore.

At some point, if I remember correctly, the cargo-specific vessel was replaced by one of the Gozo Channel ships, taken off from the Gozo-Cirkewwa route.

I’m sure that anyone with a moderate knowledge of maritime affairs and no link to any provider and basic honesty could search and find less costly ships that can fit the bill.

The lesson is clear. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to complicate what is essentially a simple matter. And above all, we don’t have to spend all this money just because we can’t bring ourselves to take the right decision.

If the people who crowd the ships all the year round were to have this mental blockage every time they had to take a decision, all their business and all their family lives would be blocked.

In a way, that is why travel to Sicily is booming while that to Gozo keeps hitting the obstacles we all know – delays  especially.


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