Over a hundred protestors on Saturday demanded the immediate closure of Aquaculture Resources Limited’s tuna recycling plant, which Birżebbuġa residents say has brought an “unbearable stench” to the southern seaside village.
The plant turning tuna bits into fish feed and fish oil opened in October. Since then Birżebuġġa residents have complained of an unbearable stench.
Despite this, Aquaculture Resources Limited CEO Charlon Gouder has denied that any odours are originating from the tuna plant and invited protesters to come and smell for themselves.
Residents and activists from Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa and Moviment Graffitti gathered on Saturday to demand immediate action to end the issue.
Protest speakers and attendees said that the stench is the cherry on the cake for a village which has always bore the brunt of progress.
“You have choked us with the airport, the freeport, the power station, the shell ship refuelling bridge, and now with the tuna plant,” Raffaella Baldacchino, a young resident, and engineering student said to the crowd.
“Is it too much to ask for clean air, or is that the only permission the Environmental Resource Authority and Planning Authority refuse,” she said.
Protestors met at the parish square before stopping at the end of the promenade beside Triq San Patrizzju, one of the areas where the stench is felt most.
Residents: Smell started when plant opened
Marching with the crowd, 43-year-old Christine Fracalanza told Times of Malta that when she first felt the stench she suspected it to be a dead animal. The smell only began after the plant opened, she said.
Other residents similarly said that there was no fish smell before the plant opened.
“Birżebbuġa is always forgotten,” one Birzebbuġa native said. “Not even the local council cares,” he said.
Zoltan Radovan Ruzicic, who lives on Zibra street, one of the most affected areas, addressed the crowd.
He said that people on the street have had health complications because of the stench and said the authorities have not done enough to first prevent this and now to stop it.
“I hope ERA has failed only because of incompetence,” he said.
Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa secretary Conrad D’Amato called for the factory to immediately stop operations and not restart before authorities can get to the bottom of the issue.
He said the drainage system, over 50 years old, could be overflowing with waste from the plant.
“We have nothing against the plant itself, but residents must be respected,” he said.
'We will stop factory ourselves'
Andre Callus of Moviment Graffitti said the protest was just a warning. “If things do not change, we together with the residents will stop the factory operations ourselves,” he said.
Last to speak was mayor Scott Camilleri, who was met with scattered applause. The Birżebbuġa mayor has previously been criticised for not doing enough on the matter.
He said that authorities such as the Water Services Corporation have cooperated by continuously cleaning the drainage system. Still, an upgrade of the sewage infrastructure needs to be done immediately.
“ERA has done over fifty inspections on the site, but still the fact remains that there was no fish smell before the factory started operations,” he said.
At that point, Cammilleri was heckled by several in the crowd, who said the council had "done nothing" and asked "where are all the other councillors?"
ADPD: Where are health and safety standards?
During an earlier press conference in Birżebuġġa ADPD chairman Carmel Cacopardo said the project could have been an important step in developing Malta's circular economy.
However, much was left to be desired in its implementation leaving residents to bear the brunt of smells and sewage overflow because of "carelessness".
"Proper sewage management is something so basic in a developed country. We can't help but wonder if Aquaculture Resources Ltd are indeed able to adhere to high health and safety standards," ADPD said.
The party has previously said that the government should move to force factory operators to respect standards.
People are being made to “sacrifice their health and wellbeing on the altar of growth economy and GDP”, the party has argued.