It was a year of disasters, though sadly many of them were entirely man-made.
From car bombs to massive fires, murders to political intrigue, 2017 was packed with news events which kept readers on tenterhooks – though it was another, altogether different occurrence, which drove a record-breaking number of readers to the Times of Malta website.
Here’s our countdown of 2017’s most-read stories.
10. Fire at Mtaħleb animal park
Two leopards, an emu and several monkeys were killed when an overnight fire burnt large parts of an animal farm to the ground in early October.
The story struck a chord with many readers, and eventually developed into a tit-for-tat when the Mtaħleb farm owner’s criticism of firefighter delays prompted a stinging rebuttal from the Civil Protection Department.
9. An MEP grilling
When Joseph Muscat faced European parliamentarians back in June to answer rule of law questions prompted by the Panama Papers leak, Times of Malta readers were keenly following - just as they did months later, when thousands took to the streets to call for the police commissioner and attorney general's (metaphorical) heads.
8. Missing youths found alive
It was the feel-good story of the year: After three days missing, Nick Johnson and Mark Petric were spotted clinging to a cliff-face, shivering and shaken but otherwise well, by a fisherman early on a Monday morning in August.
The two youths had gone for a swim and found themselves stranded when rough seas prevented them from returning ashore. Three days later, Tony Zammit spotted them while on his boat. He broke his finger in the rush to rescue them, but shrugged it off afterwards.
“It’s nothing compared to what could have happened to these poor boys,” he told Times of Malta.
7. Sant' Antnin catches fire
A massive fire destroyed a large part of Marsascala’s Sant’ Antnin recycling plant in late May, with firefighters battling the flames for days before finally putting it out for good.
Huge plumes of black smoke and health warnings led to concerns about air quality in southern Malta, but within weeks of it being extinguished, experts said tests showed that there was nothing to worry about.
Somewhat ironically, the plant caught fire just one week after the Prime Minister had pledged to move it to Magħtab.
6. Brutal murder in Swieqi
A businessman was stabbed to death at his Swieqi home in February, in a gruesome murder which horrified readers.
David Abela, 51, was found naked, bound and gagged by his partner when she returned from a trip overseas.
CCTV footage showed a man breaking into the house in the hours ahead of the murder. Nobody has been charged with the killing.
On the night of April 20, what seemed like all of Malta tuned in as the prime minister held an impromptu press conference to deny that his wife was the ultimate beneficial owner of the Panama Papers-listed firm Egrant.
The allegation, made by Daphne Caruana Galizia, would dominate the news cycle for subsequent months, with readers flocking to read about police searching Pilatus Bank offices and Dr Muscat’s subsequent suggestion that the whole thing could be a Russian setup.
4. The general election
Ultimately, the Egrant claims didn’t matter: Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party romped home to a record-setting electoral victory, and Times of Malta readers showed up in massive numbers for minute-by-minute updates on election day.
Readers were also especially interested to read of Simon Busuttil's mid-election claims that Keith Schembri received kickbacks from the sales of passports, as well as his decision to quit as PN leader a couple of days after the June election result emerged.
3. Msida car bomb
A car blew up right in the middle of the day at Msida in February, severely injuring the driver and shocking an entire nation.
Romeo Bone, 40, lost both legs in the explosion, which came just one month after a similar bomb blew up a 65-year-old Victor Calleja’s car as he was driving past Maltapost headquarters.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told parliament the situation was “not normal”, as his Home Affairs Minister promised to beef up police resources in response.
Sadly, it would not be enough to prevent another car bomb just eight months later.
2. Daphne Caruana Galizia murdered
It was the sort of news readers struggled to come to terms with: Daphne Caruana Galizia, the country’s best-known and most controversial journalist, had been assassinated.
News of the car bomb killing spread like wildfire, and within minutes readers from across the globe were following.
The event sparked an unprecedented wave of interest in Malta and the case – from her son's strong words about the murder, reports on the investigation and news of arrests, courtroom drama and, of course, the news report concerning Ms Caruana Galizia’s funeral.
1. Azure Window - lost and gone forever
One day it was there, the next it was gone. When Times of Malta reported that the Azure Window had collapsed into the sea, many readers initially seemed reluctant to believe that the photos were real.
Within minutes, the story had spread to all four corners of the globe. Surprise mixed with nostalgia and with readers also eagerly reading about the Dwejra memes appearing online and watching what might well be the last-ever video taken of the iconic UNESCO site.
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