The one-of-a-kind World War II wreck sunken near Manoel Island is facing an uncertain future after the company responsible for building a yacht marina in the area is reluctant to give a guarantee to protect it.

"We will try to work around it as much as we can. The breakwater won't touch the wreck, but at the end of the day the wreck is still going to be smack in the middle of a marina," Midi CEO Ben Muscat told The Sunday Times.

He said he did not "anticipate" any works close to the site, but said he could only pledge to save the site "to the extent that we can".

Last November, however, he had been more reassuring: "The sunken wreck will not be affected by any of the marine works that we are planning in the vicinity of Lazzaretto. No works will be carried out close to the wreck," he had said.

The wreck in question is a unique X127 Waterlighter sunk in 1942, which lies fully intact in the waters beneath Lazzaretto Creek. It was touted as an ideal diving site by a number of divers who wanted to ensure it was preserved.

However, the plans recently released by the government for the yacht marina did not give any indication of how it will be protected.

When questioned on the matter, the Infrastructure Ministry, responsible for marina development, said during the consultation process they "did not receive any information in this regard".

However, a group of diving enthusiasts and archaeologists had for a while been raising alarm about the site, sending e-mails and information to various government entities asking for reassurance that it would be protected.

A ministry spokesman said Midi was responsible for the construction of the breakwater so the query should be addressed by the company or the planning authority.

Contacted yesterday, diver Etienne Micallef, who had campaigned to preserve the wreck, said he could not understand how Mr Muscat made a promise in the first place if he was now bound to break it.

"He knew about the wreck as much as he knew about the planned marina.

This is unbelievable. Should anything happen to X127, I demand that he resigns. As for the consultation process, weren't my letters to the newspapers and to the Cultural Superintendent a sufficient eye-opener?" Mr Micallef asked.

"I do not know what is wrong on this island, but elsewhere, when they have cultural heritage to protect, it always comes first. The X127 should be treated in the same way. It is unique. No other exists."

Cultural Superintendent Anthony Pace had confirmed the wreck was protected under Maltese law.

"We are keeping our eyes open. Although we are concerned, we are taking a positive view on the issue. However, if a threat exists, we will do everything in our power to protect it," he had said.

However, despite several attempts, Mr Pace could not be contacted yesterday for his reaction on the lowering degree of commitment on behalf of the government and Midi.

The X127 Waterlighter was one of 200 designed by Walter Pollock and Son, of Faversham in Kent, for the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, but it is the only one in the world that has been preserved intact.

During World War II, it was used as a submarine supply barge. It was sunk by enemy fire while still lashed to its moorings beneath the arched colonnades of the Lazzaretto.

cperegin@timesofmalta.com

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