Oil rigs which have marred the Grand Harbour skyline for years will be removed by the end of April following an agreement between Transport Malta and Palumbo Shipyard, Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg said on Wednesday.
He also announced that the authorities will remove half-sunk vessels which have littered Marsa Creek for years, taking up valuable space.
The agreement comes weeks after environment ombudsman Alan Saliba intervened in the issue, following complaints by residents and activists.
Speaking at a press conference, Borg said the port authorities will be imposing a time limit on vessels undergoing repairs in Grand Harbour and they will clamp down on ship owners who unnecessarily allow their vessels to idle in the harbour.
He said that whereas to date no time limits were imposed, effectively allowing vessels to be laid up, the authorities would henceforth be imposing a limit of two months, with owners having to justify their reasons for requiring more time when applying for an extension to the permit.
“While we acknowledge the significance of the maritime industry to the economy and encourage activities that guarantee stable employment for many, it is not acceptable to leave vessels rotting in the harbour. Some have been idling in the water for three or four years,” Borg said.
Port authorities would no longer allow owners to allow their unseaworthy vessels to be abandoned in the harbour, and should owners not comply, authorities will be within their rights to remove the vessels and bill the owners, the minister said.
“We need to sweep away the garbage that is clogging up our port, our economy cannot afford to lose this much valuable space in a working harbour.”
He added that the ministry had held talks with Palumbo shipyard and an agreement had been reached for all idle oil rigs to be removed from the port by April.
Earlier this month the shipyard was reportedly told by Transport Malta to remove oil rigs berthed at its quays for years following a complaint by NGOs and Cottonera residents to the Ombudsman.
Borg said the Transport Ministry was also working closely with the Environment Resources Authority to clean up and dredge the harbour. In the coming weeks the government would be announcing a plan for regenerating various facilities in the port.
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