Chronicle of a fatal accident (actually, two) foretold...

The State could have done more to prevent those fatalities. And yes, it did ‘create the conditions’ for this dangerous situation to have come about in the first place…

Ever get the feeling that certain, seemingly unrelated news items – the sort of stories that occasionally pop up at random on your social media feed, for instance – are actually quite deeply intertwined… only in ways that are not immediately visible to the naked eye?

For what it’s worth: I get that feeling all the time. And while I could pick almost any number of examples to illustrate the same point, I’ll limit myself to just two news items for the time being… both published over the past three weeks.

The first was about two parked cars that got swept out to sea at Cirkewwa, during particularly rough weather towards the end of November;

The second was a more recent report about the number of ‘dangerous animals’ kept in captivity throughout Malta and Gozo (and which turned out to be much higher than any of us had realistically imagined…)

And the third… well, it’s not a single ‘story’, as such. It’s more the fact that there is a public inquiry going on, into the question of whether the State was in any way ‘responsible’ – by deed, or inaction – for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017.

See what I mean? Hard to even imagine three more hopelessly ‘unrelated’ topics than those… and yet, I can’t shrug off this idea that there may really be a common thread between them, at some level…. almost though they all, in different ways, somehow point in the same general direction.

So tell you what: let’s take them one at a time. Those cars that ended up in the sea on November 29, for instance? The first thing that struck me, upon reading the story, was a distinct sensation of deja-vu.

And sure enough, a quick internet search promptly confirmed that the same site – Cirkewwa’s south terminal, to be precise – had been the scene of an almost identical mishap (also involving multiple vehicles) just over five years ago.

As it turns out, three cars had been swept out to sea – at the exact same spot, in similar weather conditions - on 29 September 2016; while a good many more ended up (as reported at the time) “pushed into each other like toys by the swirling water, as owners watched helplessly, unable to reach them…”

And even that earlier incident had its antecedents: as could easily be confirmed by countless comments, appearing underneath both articles, which either recounted similar experiences at the same location… or else, blamed the car owners themselves for being stupid enough to even park in such a notoriously dangerous spot to begin with.

Bottom line, however: that part of the Cirkewwa waterfront really is a ‘dangerous spot’ – potentially deadly, in fact – to consider parking your car…

… and yet, to this day there are still no barriers to prevent cars (or people) from actually being swept out to sea; nor even any signs to warn of the possible dangers of parking (or even just being) there in the first place.

I mean, honestly: if Garcia Marquez had to write a novel about it, it would have to be entitled ‘Chronicle of an Accident Foretold’.

How on earth can you possibly expect cars NOT to get swept out to sea… if no action is ever taken to prevent it from actually happening (with the obvious result that… erm… it does happen. Once every few years, at least…)

But no. As things stand, it fell to the owner of one of the cars that had to be fished out of the water – at his/her own expense, it would seem – to start a private campaign, calling for warning signs to be erected on the same spot.

And who knows? Maybe a warning sign will indeed be put up there, sooner or later: hopefully, before the next (entirely predictable) accident claims more than just a couple of automobiles as victims.

Because – and I now realise that this may well be the ‘common thread’ I mentioned earlier - the law of statistical probability applies to this case, as to all others.

The simple fact that this type of accident has already occurred so frequently in the past – and, more pointedly, that nothing has ever been done to stop it from happening again - also means that (extended indefinitely over time, and all other things remaining equal, etc..)… it WILL happen again. No two ways about it…

And let’s face it: we’ve been lucky so far. Realistically speaking, it can only be a matter of time before the next car that gets swept to sea – in identical weather conditions, at the exact same spot - also has a sticker on its back window, saying: “Baby On Board”…

And whose fault would that be, I wonder? The elements? The owner of the vehicle? Or the State which took no action whatsoever – despite countless repeat occurrences - to avert the entirely avoidable?

From this point on, the connection with the other two stories becomes a good deal easier to spot. Starting with the one about all the lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, and – I kid you not – brown bears (!) that are being held in captivity (with or without a licence) in Malta at the moment (quite possibly, down the road from wherever you’re reading this right now.

Once again, I found myself experiencing the same deja-vu sensation. For around four years ago – at a time when there had been two separate cases of people (including a small child) injured by big cats in private zoos -  I even began an article with the line: “Have you ever paused to consider that your chances of getting mauled by a lion or tiger are actually much higher in Malta, than in both Africa and India put together?”

Well, four years later I suddenly discover that (as Michael Falzon rightly calculated, in his own article on the subject yesterday):  “Statistically, there are more tigers per square kilometre in Malta than there are in India”.

And he’s right, you know: we now officially have 64 tigers in captivity… which, proportional to our half-million population (not to mention the gargantuan difference in dimensions between our two countries) make India’s measly total of 3,000 specimens look rather microscopic…

And once again, the law of statistical probabilities suggests that we are looking at yet another ‘entirely avoidable tragedy’, in the process of becoming a near-mathematical certainty).

Let me put it this way: we have already had at least two big cat attacks on humans in the recent past: and I suspect that the only reason we haven’t had any more, is that at least one of the two ‘zoos’ (in which only 42 of those 64 tigers are actually housed, by the way) has since been closed to the public.

Meanwhile, the Veterinary Regulation Directorate (VRD) has separately confirmed that: a) as of mid-October 2020, “there were still six persons, owning in aggregate 66 species that were considered as dangerous, who had not yet fulfilled all their obligations with regard to the said legislation”, and; b) “no legal action was taken against them”.

Oh, not to mention that a recently-launched ‘public consultation document’ - ostensibly aimed at regulating the entire sector concerning zoos, animals, and the ‘keeping-in-captivity’ thereof – was hastily recalled, and just as hastily amended… to remove a proposal to ban the petting of live animals, after one specific ‘zoo-keeper’ (no prizes for guessing which one) complained…

Mix it all up together, and place it in the context of yet another story – not entirely ‘unrelated’ this time; though it does involve different animals – in which an elderly lady from Msida got mauled to death by pit-bull terriers in her own apartment block… despite, it must be said, numerous complaints to the Animal Welfare agency, by residents of the same block, about the large number of potentially dangerous dogs being housed on the top floor…

And just like the next batch of parked cars that will inevitably get swept out to sea, in rough weather, on that decidedly dangerous Cirkewwa south terminal… you can rest assured that - sooner or later - someone, somewhere, is going to get mauled (or killed) in this country by a lion… or a tiger… or a bear…

…and while it might happen at one of Malta’s unlicensed (and, let’s face it, entirely amateur) ‘zoos’… those recent statistics suggest it could just as easily happen in someone’s home; or in an underground cellar somewhere… or wherever this disproportionately high proportion of unregistered ‘dangerous animals’ happens to be kept.

(And in God-knows-what condition, too… in all honesty, I shudder to even imagine)…

By which point, the relevance of the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry should have already become perfectly visible. Sadly we can no longer talk about that particular crime as a ‘potential future eventuality’… because it did happen; and there is now an inquiry to determine whether the State had played any role in ‘creating the conditions’ for that murder to be committed.

Apply that same paradigm to either of those two hypothetical (well, almost hypothetical) scenarios…  be it a fatal future accident at Cirkewwa, or a fatal future mauling by a privately-owned wild animal… and I fail to see how a possible future inquiry would not conclude that: yes, actually.

The State could have done more to prevent those fatalities. And yes, it did ‘create the conditions’ for this dangerous situation to have come about in the first place…