It is not the first marine vessel to do so. Titanic, Bismarck, Costa Concordia and Enterprise are well-known around the world. Yellow Submarine is a song gone global, and Love Boat was a popular TV series in the 1980s. In Malta, Ark Royal, the Santa Maria Convoy, the Erika and Um el Farud are familiar to many. And we have our very own Lanċa ġejja u oħra sejra song.

What’s so special about the Armada LNG Mediterrana?

The 31-year-old, 300-metre long ship has been leased to Electrogas for 18 years and will be used as a storage facility for liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Malta’s new gas power plant. It belongs to a Malaysian company and before its Maltese makeover it was known as Bumi Armada.

Its celebrity status has so far proven to be as polarised as Maltese politics. For Labour, it is part of the flagship electoral pledge to shift Malta’s main energy source to gas. For the Nationalists, it is a monument of corruption and can be an accident waiting to happen.

The fact that this ship is part of Konrad Mizzi’s portfolio (despite being a minister without portfolio) adds much baggage to its identity. Let us not forget that Mizzi is embroiled in the Panama Papers scandal – itself stuff for resignation. And during the 2013 electoral campaign, the same Mizzi had promised that Malta will have two onshore gas tanks by March 2015.

Incidentally, at the time, I had publicly pronounced my scepticism of this promise, as it seemed technically impossible.

The Mediterrana has also to be seen within the context of a €360 million guarantee by the government of Malta, the part-privatisation of Enemalta to Shangai Electric, and a fixed-price agreement with Electrogas for five years for the provision of 50 per cent of Malta’s energy.

The Armada LNG Mediterrana has assumed celebrity status

It is unclear what will happen if the price of such energy shoots up after this period. It is also unclear whether Malta’s interconnector could have provided cheaper energy and whether Malta will reach its renewable energy targets to help combat climate change.

This lack of clarity is very much fed by a lack of transparency with regard to requests for information by the media, civil society and the Opposition.

Hence it is not surprising at all that Maltese society has to rely on party-political slogans on the country’s energy policy.

The Nationalist Party is highlighting the governance, aesthetic and safety ramifications of the tanker. It is insisting that Mediterrana should not be allowed to anchor in Marsaxlokk Bay until risk assessment reports are published. Simon Busuttil has quoted the Seveso III Directive, which Malta has signed, and which states that sufficient measures to prevent and mitigate risks should be in place.

On his part, Mizzi is insisting that the IPCC procedure for the granting of an operations permit for the new power station will be fully transparent. He is also flaunting the shift from heavy fuel oil to gas and cheaper electricity tariffs.

The government is also stating that the ship will ‘only’ be there until a gas pipeline between Malta and Sicily is constructed. Yet, again, there is a lack of information on this project, apart from a Times of Malta report that it is still in embryonic stage.

It is very unfortunate that the government’s obstinacy to conceal studies and other relevant data has rendered the tanker issue into a circus. Instead of an evidence-based rational dialogic process on Malta’s energy policy, we have a partisan shouting game.

In such a context, it is imperative that risk assessment studies are immediately available to the public. Yet, these should be accompanied by scientific explanation from credible experts so as to counter partisan exaggeration from all sides.

Here, it should be explained that there is no such thing as a risk-free energy-project, but that not all risks are equal to others. Some can be properly managed, whilst others are simply unacceptable. It should also be explained that management of risks also includes mitigation measures to ensure as much safety as possible.

In the absence of full transparency and evidence-based information, the Armada LNG Mediterrana is being guaranteed celebrity status for the wrong reasons.

Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.

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