The Malta-Sicily interconnector project was inaugurated this evening by Italian and Maltese prime ministers Matteo Renzi and Joseph Muscat.

In his address, Dr Muscat praised his predecessor Lawrence Gonzi, who was sitting with ministers in the second row, for having “the vision to start and commit to this project and to take ambitious decision that must have found opposition”.

Dr Muscat said: "he had a choice to make and he made the right call... Credit goes to him".

He also thanked Mr Renzi and his predecessor Enrico Letta for helping reduce bureaucracy.

Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi said the project was not simply engineering but collaboration between two countries.

The project marked the beginning of a journey of further collaboration between the two countries, he said as he called on the EU to continue to diversify its energy supply.

Mr Renzi said that as the world was going through a time of wars, he preferred to invest in bridges and interconnection as opposed to division.

This was an important inauguration for Malta and for its collaboration with Sicily but "I believe the most important thing is the value of cultural and economic relations between the two sides."

The event, he said, was not a conclusion but a first step “because we have a lot of things to do together”.

He reiterated his call made during a joint news conference with Dr Muscat that Europe must consider the Mediterranean as mare nostrum for everybody and as a place where dreams could turn into reality.

Dr Muscat said that one should aspire for a more interconnected Europe that was connected more to the rest of the world.

The Mediterranean, he said, was often overlooked by Europe but it could be transformed from a sea of tragedy to one of opportunity..

He said that the preliminary studies for a gas pipeline with Italy were at an advanced stage and once the situation in North Africa stabilised similar projects would also be sought with the country’s southern neighbours.

Addressing a joint news conference at Castille earlier this afternoon, the Italian Prime Minister said that the Mediterranean was the “heart and soul” of Europe.

Touching on the irregular migration and the instability in Libya, he said that these had to be addressed “at the root” by working towards a national unity government in Libya, that would embrace the biggest number of tribes.

He said that as politician he was bound to commit himself completely to combat against issues like religious intolerance, beheading of innocent people by extremist groups and slavery.

Mr Renzi warned that if Europe failed to broker a deal in Libya it would be a defeat for its institutions and leave a security threat on its doorstep. He added that following the positive conclusions in favour of a greater effort for a solution in Libya sealed in last month’s EU summit, the next step was to reflect this commitment in political priorities.

He noted how last year the upsurge in violence in Libya resulted in a record 160,000 migrant arrivals in Italy.

Dr Muscat said the interconnector project was a livid example of how neighbouring Mediterranean countries could work together. He said that the next challenge would be a gas pipeline linking Malta to Gela in Sicily which would bolster Malta’s energy supply. The Prime Minister said that both sides had also discussed the possibility of joint oil exploration.

As for the possibility to set up reception centres in North Africa to process migrants’ requests for asylum avoiding further tragedies in illegal crossings, he said the emphasis at the moment had to be political stability.

Mr Renzi confirmed when asked he would be taking part in the Labour Party's political activity in Paola later this evening. He is also expected to address the gathering.

The interconnector project

The Malta-Sicily interconnector aims to contribute to the achievement of a diversified mix of energy sources by providing the country with access to electricity generated through sources located in Sicily and other regions in mainland Europe.

It comprises a 120-kilometre high voltage alternating current (HVAC) system capable of bidirectional flow of electrical power, transferring 200MW of electricity.

In Sicily, the interconnector is linked to the Italian network at 230kV at the Terna substation in Ragusa. The submarine cable lands in Malta at Qalet Marku, Bahar ic-Caghaq and transmits electricity to the distribution network at 132kV through a nearby Enemalta terminal station at Maghtab.

This terminal station is located a few hundred metres away from Qalet Marku Bay, where the submarine cable was pulled ashore in December 2013.

At the station, electricity from the submarine cable will be received at 220kV and stepped down to 132kV. It is then fed to the Maltese grid via cables passing through a purposely-built 6.5 kilometres tunnel leading to the Kappara Distribution Centre.

The cables connecting the station to the distribution centre comprise three circuits, each with three single core cables in trefoil formation. At the other end of the terminal, the interconnector cable heads towards Sicily through an 850 metre underground culvert until it reaches Qalet Marku Bay, at Bahar ic-Caghaq.

The subsea circuit is approximately 98 kilometres long. It was laid between December 2013 and March 2014 using a specialised cable laying vessel.

Along most of the route, the submarine cable is buried in a trench beneath the seabed. In areas where the seabed was too hard to trench the cable is covered with a rock berm.

The cable also crosses some Posidonia Oceanica meadows. To avoid damaging this listed plant’s habitat, the cable has not been buried or placed in a trench but wrapped in strong cast iron shells.

At Qalet Marku, the submarine cable is pulled through a 220 metre underwater micro tunnel reaching from the seabed in the middle of the bay to the culvert leading to the Maghtab Terminal. At Marina di Ragusa, the interconnector was pulled ashore through another micro tunnel and then jointed to the land cables leading to the Terna substation.

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