Ultra-distance swimmer Neil Agius and swimmer Sean Meli, who saved a drowning boy last month, were among those awarded Republic Day honours by President George Vella on Monday in a special ceremony.

"I am very grateful and thankful for the award. I hope my good act will inspire others to do the same, to help others in anyway they can," Meli told Times of Malta. 

Swimmer and former water polo player Sean Meli was awarded the Midalija Ghall-Qlubija. 

Back in November, the 33-year old was hailed a ‘hero’ after he rescued a 14-year-old Chinese boy from drowning at Qui-Si-Sana, Sliema.

He would have been ‘traumatised for life’ had the young boy did not make it, so he stripped to his boxers and jumped into the rough sea to save the boy. 

The ceremony took place at the President’s Pace in Valletta, where President George Vella appointed 15 members, including one organisation, to the National Order of Merit. Three were awarded on an honorary basis, and another posthumously. 

Two individuals were awarded the Midalja ghall-Qlubija  (Medal for Bravery) and eleven others were awarded to the Midalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (Medal for the Service of the Republic).

This is the second Republic Day celebrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and just like last year, the President did not place the medal on recipients, who instead placed it on themselves after it was handed to them..

The medals await their recipients. Photo: DOI/Jeremy WonnacottThe medals await their recipients. Photo: DOI/Jeremy Wonnacott

'A complete surprise and privilege' Neil Agius

Ultra-distance swimmer Neil Agius was awarded the Midalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika for completing a 125.75km swim in 52 hours back in July to raise awareness about plastic pollution at sea and is part of the Wave of Change campaign.

"To be honest it was a big surprise and a privilege to be there. At first, I felt slightly out of place seeing others who were being awarded, but honestly it encourages me to continuing doing what I do," Agius told Times of Malta.

"Being awarded ensures me that I am doing the right thing and it drives me to continue advocating and doing what we do."

10 other people were also honoured with the Midalja Ghall-Qadi Tar-Repubblika. 

Cancer patient and advocate Ethel Vento Zahra, author Joe Zammit Ciantar, veteran actress Jane Marshall, and veteran horror story writer Anton Grasso were amongst those awarded. 

President George Vella during the Republic Day speech Photo: DOIPresident George Vella during the Republic Day speech Photo: DOI

Apart from Meli, doctor Raymond Grixti was awarded the Midalja Ghall-Qlubija, after he managed to give first aid to a person who was seriously injured in a hostile environment and who was not easily reachable. 

During the operation, Grixti was also injured with several wounds that needed medical attention, once the injured person was assisted, stabilised and taken to hospital.

St. John Rescue Corps awarded 

St. John Rescue Corps was awarded the National Order of Merit as an organisation.

Corps volunteers were recognised for their assistance during emergencies such as major floods and storms, searches for missing persons and lifeguard services. 

Broadcaster Norman Hamilton, whose career in broadcasting and television spans over 60 years was also awarded the National Order of Merit.

Another interesting character who was awarded was Dominican priest Gwann Xerri, who died while COVID-19 positive in Brazil earlier this year. He was awarded posthumously.

Xerri was known best for his decades of missionary work, living and working among the poor in Brazil.  

Maltese-American Darrin Quiroz Camilleri was awarded as an honorary member. Quiroz Camilleri serves on the Michigan House of Representatives, having been re-elected for the third time last year. 

Professor Edward Zammit, art historian and conservator Sante Guido, maritime expert George Procopiou, emergency doctors Michael Spiteri and Jonathan Joslin, doctor Frederick Fearne, Professor Joseph Cacciottolo and engineer professor Lino Bianco were also awarded the National Order of Merit. 

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