Decision drags on six years from Palumbo toxic dumping appeal

The planning appeals tribunal has not decided on the Palumbo appeal to an enforcement notice against toxic dumping, six years and 23 sittings on

File photo
File photo

The planning appeals tribunal has yet to decide on an appeal filed by the Palumbo shipyard, six years from a clampdown on the landfilling of grit blasting material under a 5,000sq.m concrete platform.

The enforcement notice came with fines for Palumbo for every day until rectification of the illegality in August 2016, a full two years after Planning Authority officials arrived on site to collect samples that were confirmed as containing the toxic chemicals used in grit blasting.

But the appeal filed by the Italian dock owners has dragged on since then, with the last hearing in June 2022 finally deferred for a decision. Eight months on, no date has been set for the next sitting in which the decision is read.

Normally a date is set immediately after a sitting is adjourned for decision. The case was last deferred for a decision in January 2020. And it was only in September 2021 that the tribunal met again, when the case was adjourned for a site inspection that was only held in February 2022.

MaltaToday is informed that it is extremely rare for cases heard by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal to drag on for six years. Questions sent to the EPRT remained unanswered.

Back in 2016, the Environment and Resources Authority requested a plan on how Palumbo will remedy the breach in environment laws. The enforcement order was highly contentious because the concession awarded to Palumbo obliges “the observance of the country’s laws” in the running of the dockyard. Palumbo immediately appealed, arguing that the grit blasting material found on site predated the privatisation of the shipyards.

Palumbo’s lawyer Matthew Brincat insisted that although traces of grit blasting were still found on site, these were found in levels far below the legal limit. On their part, PA and ERA officials argued that all traces of grit blasting had to be removed before the area was covered by concrete.

Palumbo also lacked a permit to export grit in its first two years of operations, with the first waste shipment taking place in January 2014.

Former PA chief executive Johann Buttigieg had claimed the alleged deposit of waste under the concrete slab took place in 2012, “approximately six months” after Palumbo took over the shipyards. He used aerial photos taken before Palumbo took over the shipyard to confirm that the works took place after the docks were privatised. “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.

On its part Palumbo Shipyards has disputed Buttigieg’s statement that they lacked any permit to export waste before the enforcement action by presenting documentary evidence that a permit to export grit from sandblasting was issued to PT Matic Environmental Services Limited, a licensed waste broker that had signed a contract with the Palumbo shipyard in November 2013. Palumbo said the waste was eventually shipped to Portugal in January 2014 months before the PA’s enforcement action. Palumbo’s first shipment of toxic waste took place a full two years after Palumbo took over the dockyard.

The PA had been informed of the abuse a full three months before taking action in September 2014, two years after the alleged illegality, and after the publication of newspaper reports denouncing the abuse. But then the enforcement order was issued two years later.

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. They claim the works took place to level out the rough terrain, and that the area had been cleaned thoroughly before cementing, with any grit blasting remnants deposited there before assuming ownership of the shipyard. The company also said it informed Mimcol and the Lands Department about the works, showing the authorities knew about the works in 2012.

Samples tested by the PA later confirmed  the presence of spent grit under the concrete platform.

In 2020 MSC Cruises and Palumbo Group announced the formation of a joint venture to operate the Palumbo Malta Shipyard which saw MSC Cruises take a 50% stake in the shipyard.