The MV Nikolaos, a 1987 Ro-Ro passenger ship, will be crossing the Mediterranean from Greece in the coming days to join the three current Gozo Channel vessels this summer.
Confirming a Times of Malta story published last Thursday, Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana on Friday posted pictures of her whirlwind visit to Greece to “inspect” the 32-year-old leased vessel.
Dr Caruana confirmed that the ship, which used to do crossings between various Greek islands, will be the fourth in the Gozo Channel fleet and had been leased for a short period until a tender is issued to lease another vessel for a longer duration.
'Panic' within ministry
The Times of Malta story on the introduction of this old ferry boat, created some ‘panic’ within government circles, particularly at the Gozo Ministry.
Plans for the introduction of a fourth vessel at Gozo Channel were being kept under wraps, in order to be ‘announced’ by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat during a Labour political activity in the final days of the ongoing electoral campaign this month.
“The minister was furious at the front page of the Times of Malta and immediately instructed officials to put her on the first available flight to Greece so that she could visit the ship and get some political mileage,” informed sources said.
She left the island on Thursday afternoon, accompanied by Gozo Channel officials, including chairman Joe Cordina.
On Friday afternoon Dr Caruana posted pictures and videos of herself next to the 1987 ship in its Gozo Channel livery at the Greek port.
The Gozo Minister had been insisting on the need for a ‘fourth ship’ since she became minister in 2017.
Last year, Gozo Channel had already contracted a ship, also from Greece, in order to start operating during the 2018 summer months, on the minister’s instructions.
However, the contract to hire the vessel for €3,000-a-day was shelved following the objections of the Finance Ministry which concluded that the expense did not justify the improved service and frequency in Gozo Channel’s schedule.
However, this year, with elections looming, the Finance Minister lifted his objections and Gozo Channel was allowed to make the necessary arrangements.
The ‘old age’ of the leased ship resulted in immediate political bickering with PN Shadow Gozo Minister Chris Said, who while acknowledging the improvement, accused Labour of insulting Gozitans by offering them a ship that was almost on its way to the scrapyard.
He noted that while a PN government had given Gozitans three brand new ships, all that Labour could come up with was a 32-year-old vessel.
On Saturday, PN MEP candidate Michael Briguglio added to the criticism, saying the vessel was simply not up to scratch.
Replying, Labour sympathisers accused the PN of “sour grapes” insisting that “at least (minister) Justyne Caruana had kept her promise with the Gozitans to make their life better.”