A blockade of ports by Sicilian truck drivers has prevented trailers from loading goods, including those destined for Malta, but the extent of damage this may cause the island will only be determined if the situation drags on.

We cannot have a situation where a product costs €1 and the price to transport is that of €1.20

The last time similar action was taken was in autumn of 2000 when truck drivers brought the Sicilian economy to a standstill with a 10-day strike.

A spokesman for one of the main freight forwarding companies in Malta told The Times yesterday that the strike action caused severe congestion around the ports from where they operate. The company had a number of truck drivers caught in the centre of the strike action.

The spokesman, who spoke on condition that the firm was not named, said his company was making alternative arrangements to have cargo shipped from other ports in Italy such as Genoa and Civitavecchia. The trip from Civitavecchia to Malta takes two days, as opposed to 90 minutes by catamaran from Pozzallo to Malta.

The strike action was ordered by the association representing Sicilian truck drivers (Associazione Imprese Autotrasportatori Siciliani) and the action is expected to last until Thursday, unless a solution to the problem is found before.

The Sicilian truck drivers blocked entrances and exits of the ports in Pozzallo and Catania and roads and motorways in Palermo.

The managing director of Virtu Ferries, Henri Saliba, said the action had not had any effect on its operations so far but if it was prolonged, it would surely hit its commercial vehicle clients.

Virtu Ferries, which operates a daily catamaran link between Malta and Sicily, had to cancel its trips yesterday evening and this morning but this was due to the inclement weather and the rough sea, Mr Saliba said.

Several Maltese businesses, which knew about this planned blockade by Sicilian truck drivers from weeks ahead, managed to make arrangements for their goods to reach Malta from other destinations.

The main gripe of Sicilian truck drivers is the price of fuel which they believe has reached “unsustainable levels”. They are also saying the present system has brought about a reality where the cost to transport goods was greater than the cost of the actual product.

Contacted yesterday, one Sicilian truck driver who owns his own freight company said the rising costs of transportation were having a drastic effect on his profitability.

“We cannot have a situation where a product costs €1 and the price to transport it €1.20. Once the transportation costs surpass the actual cost of the product, the system breaks down. I can’t continue like this. I have a family to feed,” Paolo Caltanivetta said from his truck, which was blocking the exit from the port of Pozzallo.

The truck drivers are also complaining about the rising costs of insuring their vehicles and of wear and tear.

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