Police not yet asked to investigate Palumbo storage of hazardous waste

MEPA investigating allegedly illegal storage of grit blasting material on drydocks site, but criminal investigation not yet opened.

File photo: Antonio Palumbo (centre)
File photo: Antonio Palumbo (centre)

The Police have not yet been called in to investigate allegations of possible hazardous waste illegally buried under layers of concrete flooring in two site of the Palumbo Shipyard in Cospicua.

On Monday morning, officers from the Enforcement Directorate of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) descended on site and unearthed quantitates of possible hazardous waste.

The Authority started investigating the site after it received a tip off that quantities of grit blasting material were buried under the concrete foundations. In line with established procedures Palumbo Shipyard is obliged to export all the grit blasting waste it generates.  

“Further to your query kindly note that we have not involved the Police at this stage except to assist us in the inspections,” a spokesman for the authority told MaltaToday.

From initial investigations it results that grit blasting waste which is generated by Palumbo’s operation had been used in the foundations of the yard and was buried under the concrete flooring. Officers also inspected a gutter which runs across the property with the consequence of possibly contaminating the inland sea.

The Authority collected various samples of the unearthed waste material to send for testing to determine what procedures and safeguards it needs to take. Investigations are still ongoing.

Last year, the police received a total of 582 reports about damage to private property allegedly caused by grit blasting originating from the nearby dockyard facilities.

Grit blasting involves the firing of fine metal particles at a rough surface to smoothen out the surface. It is commonly used at dockyards to remove paint and rust from ship surfaces. Many of the 582 complaints of damage came from Bormla residents who found dust with specks of white paint covering their homes and cars, allegedly the result of grit blasting.

Palumbo is denying any wrongdoing, pointing out that grit blasting took place for 70 years at the yard, before it was taken over by Palumbo.

“We are collaborating with the planning authority because we have nothing to hide. We have a sub-contractor that collects the grit blasting and takes it overseas for dumping. The last shipment we had was on Saturday,” Palumbo managing director Joseph Calleja told The Times of Malta.

“The area from where Mepa officers took their samples was previously used as a grit blasting and spraying section. Since it was close to the boundary wall and close to residents, we decided to close this section and covered the area in concrete to have space for boat storage.”

Antonio Palumbo, owner of the Palumbo Shipyard, was released from house arrest in Italy back in November 2013 after both he and his son Raffaele were arrested in April 2013 over the illegal disposal of toxic waste from their Messina shipyard.

The arrest came following a two-year investigation by Italian environmental police. Seven people from Neapolitan shipyard owners Palumbo Spa were arrested by the police in April and placed under house arrest in an operation led by the Messina customs police (Guardia di Finanza) and the environmental police (Corpo Forestale). They were also accused of using maritime transport to dump tonnes of residual ship grift, which is sprayed using high-pressure compressors to treat the ship's sides.

The Palumbos were also charged with tampering of evidence, specifically the identification papers of the waste their ships carried. But according to their lawyers, Palumbo SPA had in the past initiated civil action against subcontractors who were illegally disposing of sandblasting waste from the Palumbo sites.