Palumbo exported grit before Planning Authority issued enforcement against shipyard

Palumbo was granted a permit to export sand blasting grit two years after taking over the shipyards, but contrary to claims by PA chief Johann Buttigieg, this was done prior to a PA enforcement action in 2014 against the alleged deposit of grit under a concrete platform

A first permit issued to the shipyard owners Palumbo to export grit from sand blasting, was issued back in November 2013, with the waste being eventually shipped to Portugal in January 2014.

MaltaToday has confirmed that while Palumbo lacked a permit to export grit in its first two years of operations, the confirmation of the waste shipment in January 2014 contradicts a declaration made by Planning Authority chief executive Johann Buttigieg, that no grit from sand blasting activities in the dockyard was ever exported from the dockyard before the enforcement action taken by the PA in September 2014. 

The declaration was made by Buttigieg when he took the witness stand in a court appeal by Palumbo against a 2016 enforcement order on the dumping of spent grit under a concrete platform at the shipyards, in violation of the law, following a two-year investigation.

“It transpired that Palumbo did not have a permit to export grit from the country. So what happened to the grit which was produced in those two years? Obviously it was either laid under concrete or ended up in the sea,” Buttigieg told the PA’s environmental and planning review tribunal.

He also declared “there was no information or registration of any movement of grit waste from the Palumbo site before the action was taken”. When asked by Palumbo’s lawyer whether he was aware that the waste was exported by PT Matic, Buttigieg replied that this was only the case following the PA’s inspection in September 2014.

But the fact that the permit was issued as late as November 2013 indicates that Palumbo did not have a permit to export grit in the first two years after taking over the dockyard, during which period the company is accused by the Planning Authority of dumping grit waste under a concrete platform. Permits normally take months to process.

MaltaToday can also confirm that Palumbo had informed both Mimcol and the Lands Department about works carried out by the shipyard on the site of the alleged dumping.

The export permit was issued to PT Matic Environmental Services Limited, a licensed waste broker that had signed a contract with the Palumbo shipyard, and was valid till September 2014.

Buttigieg has claimed that the alleged deposition of waste under the concrete slab took place in 2012, “approximately six months” after Palumbo took over the shipyards, referring to aerial photos taken before Palumbo took over the shipyard that confirm that the works took place after the docks were privatised. 

This would mean that the works took place before PT Matic was issued with a permit to export the stored grit.

The fact that a waste permit was first issued in November 2013 suggests that Palumbo did not export any grit in the period between May 2010 when it took over the yard and January 2014 when the first shipment of waste took place.

Buttigieg confirmed that the PA was informed of this abuse a full three months before taking action in September 2014, two years after the alleged illegality took place and after the publication of newspaper reports denouncing the abuse. The enforcement order was issued two years later.

MaltaToday asked the PA whether Buttigieg’s declaration holds water in view of the waste permit issued by the authority.

A spokesperson for the Authority replied by pointing out that the issue of waste permits now falls under the Environment and Resources Authority. On its part the ERA confirmed that the permit covered the export of waste blasting material and other waste (grit waste) from Palumbo Malta Shipyard Limited.


Palumbo informed government of 2012 works

Palumbo claims that when it took over the shipyards in 2010, it had found a patch of dilapidated land that for decades had been used for grit blasting and painting activities, which was then earmarked for use by super yachts.

They claim that the works took place to level the rough terrain and that the area was cleaned thoroughly before being cemented. Moreover according to the company any remnants of grit blasting in this area were deposited before Palumbo assumed ownership of the shipyard.

What is sure is that the works carried out by Palumbo in 2012 were not done in an underhand way.

MaltaToday has seen documentation showing that the company had informed Mimcol and the Lands Department about the works on the site in which grit was allegedly covered by concrete. This indicates that the authorities knew about the works in question in 2012.

But samples taken from the site by the Planning Authority have confirmed the presence of spent grit under the concrete platform.

In his testimony the PA’s Executive Chairman cited a report conducted by Prof. Alfred Vella, then as head of the chemistry department at the University of Malta, which “showed high toxicity” in the samples taken from this site in September 2014.

In a previous sitting, a PA senior enforcement officer, Joseph Abela Medici had revealed that Prof. Vella had presented his report on 23 October, 2014, just a month after the inspection and two years before the issue of the enforcement notice. In this report Vella determined that the sample taken from underneath the platform consisted of used grit and not inert waste.

Asked why the enforcement was issued in 2016 and not in 2014, Abela Medici claimed that the reason for this was that the PA was still awaiting the results of another report conducted by another university professor.

But according to the PA official, the results were inconclusive in determining whether the grit was hazardous. The reason for this was that the tests did not conform to the parameters set by the law. In fact the enforcement issued by the PA, against which Palumbo later appealed does not refer to hazardous waste but to the “landfilling of waste consisting of grit blasting material under a concrete platform of around 4,087sq.m.”

Time-line of alleged dumping

2010 – Dockyard privatised and taken over by Palumbo.

2012 – Palumbo carries out works on site previously used for sand blasting activities. Lands Department and Mimcol informed of works to level the site in report sent by Palumbo.

November 2013 – PA issues permit for export of waste grit from dockyard. 

January 2014 – Grit exported to Portugal.

September 2014 – PA inspectors raid Palumbo yard and take samples from site after reports in the media alleging dumping of grit two years before.

August 2016 – PA issues enforcement order against Palumbo against the creation of an “illegal landfill” on site of alleged dumping of grit waste. Palumbo appeals against enforcement.

July 2017 – PA chairman testified in appeal against enforcement order claiming that Palumbo did not have a permit to export waste in two years before PA enforcement.

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