“Defamatory allegations” – Palumbo responds to NGOs on MSC merger

9 organisations have urgently appealed to the Prime Minister regarding MSC Cruises S.A acquiring 50% of Palumbo Shipyard Ltd., located in Cospicua. The appeal regards concerns they have over “the several shortcomings and scandals” which occurred during Palumbo’s ten year tenure. In response, Palumbo stated that these are “defamatory allegations”, reserved the right to institute legal action. 

According to the organisations, the fact that the terms of the deal are unknown to residents and general public alike is worrying. Furthermore, there are concerns which are related to “the several shortcomings and scandals” which occurred during Palumbo’s ten year tenure (the concession runs for 30 years).

The organisations had sent a letter, and were asked to outline Palumbo’s breaches in detail. They responded by outlining the following breaches in a letter to PM Robert Abela:

  • Toxic waste management breaches. MEPA had investigated this in 2013 and early 2014 and breaches in waste management were found in the docks. According to the organisations, no follow up action was taken.
  • Criminal negligence: The letter to the PM outlined that two people lost their life in the Docks in the past six years. The organisations said that Palumbo was found guilty of criminal negligence in Maltese courts, but no further action has been taken.
  • Contract labour abuses: The letter explained that the majority of workers work in unnecessarily hazardous conditions, with no regulations or safeguards in force for them. Numerous accidents occur. No taxes are paid by these workers in Malta. Forum Komunità Bormliża have discussed this situation with GWU Head Josef Bugeja who has been campaigning for contract and non-contract workers to be treated equally. So far these efforts have been unsuccessful.
  • Air and noise pollution: The organisations said that throughout the years there have been ongoing complaints about excessively loud noise, poor air quality and foul smells. A noise buffer was installed after residents took Palumbo to court; but only in Dock 6. A small-scale study in 2018 by BirdLife showed inordinately high instances of poisonous Nitrogen Dioxide in the Cospicua area. A noise and air quality monitoring station had been discussed in 2015, but this was never installed. No further news about these stations has been forthcoming from the authorities since.
  • Shore to ship electricity: This infrastructure – soon to be compulsory via the EU Directive on Alternative Fuel Infrastructure – has often been proposed, as it would significantly reduce air and noise pollution. The proposed joint venture with MSC would bring more huge ships into the harbour, creating more noise and air pollution to the surrounding harbour cities. Therefore, before such a deal is sanctioned, the organisations are insisting that shore to ship electricity infrastructure is in place.
  • Eyesores: For several years, a jack-up oil rig has been parked at the shipyard, defiling the high historical import views of the entire Grand Harbour, Three Cities and beyond. Ongoing complaints from several sectors have been ignored. The organisations demand that any revised terms of the concession should apply limitations on such storage.
  • Breach of contract: The organisations outlined that from the limited information available to the public, it appears that Palumbo has not honoured the investment plan on the condition of which the Parliamentary Concession of 2010 was granted. Furthermore, it is unclear how Palumbo was allowed to sell equipment from the shipyard while allowing major equipment to deteriorate during its ten year tenure.
  • Tax avoidance: The letter explained that they are informed that Palumbo operated through a Panama company. They’re asking for full disclosure and transparency about the adherence or otherwise to tax obligations, and accounting standards and guidelines. They also stressed that it is imperative to have full clarity regarding Palumbo’s current fiscal position before proceeding with any further deals or concessions.
  • Lack of investment in human capital: Mr Antonio Palumbo was approached three times by members of Forum Komunità Bormliża, requesting the engagement of Maltese workers as apprentices at the dockyard. ‘It-Tarzna’ has traditionally been a university of skills for the people of Cottonera and Kalkara affording them a decent living and a way to become professionally skilled. Palumbo turned down this proposal flatly, for three times.

The organisations concluded their letter to the PM by stating that before revising the parliamentary concession to allow MSC joint control of the shipyard, they expect all the above points to be properly addressed.

The organisations in question are: Azzjoni: Tuna Artna Lura, Association for Justice Equality and Peace, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, Forum Komunità Bormliża, Friends of the Earth (Malta), Futur Ambjent Wieħed, Moviment Graffitti, Senglea Historical Society, Żminijietna – Voice of the Left

“Palumbo unreservedly condemns the defamatory allegations”

Palumbo Shipyards said that the statement issued by the 9 organisations “is nothing but provocation from the usual suspects”. It unreservedly condemned the “defamatory allegations” and reserves the right to institute legal action. 

It stressed that these usual suspects have been bent on seeing the destruction of the shipyard for these past ten years, little realising the harm they are causing.

Palumbo Shipyards specified that to date no agreement had been finalised with MSC Cruises. It also said that such a deal would have nothing but positive economic benefits for Malta.

The shipyard added that the timing of the statement is “particularly distasteful”. This is because they are currently focusing their full efforts on safeguarding the jobs of their employees given the coronavirus crisis.

“Palumbo Shipyards has placed among the top three worldwide in the cruise ship refitting, and despite the crisis we face now we will continue to work in the interest of Malta and all its citizens,” a spokesperson said.