Hunters’ claim of ‘spy equipment’ turns out to be seismic monitoring apparatus

The ‘spying equipment’ that the hunting federation said was being used by BirdLife Malta and CABS was in fact apparatus being used by foreign experts and University of Malta staff for a seismic study

Apparatus which is used for seismic studies – hunters’ federation thought similar equipment used in Malta was for eavesdropping on mobile phone conversations
Apparatus which is used for seismic studies – hunters’ federation thought similar equipment used in Malta was for eavesdropping on mobile phone conversations

The ‘spying equipment’ that the FKNK Federation for Hunting and Conservation – Malta, said was being used by BirdLife Malta and German-based Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) ‘to eavesdrop on private mobile phone conversations’ was actually apparatus being used by foreign experts and University of Malta staff for a seismic study, MaltaToday has learnt.

FKNK on Friday said that BirdLife Malta was “possibly desperately resorting to illegal and corrupt methods to abolish the traditional socio-cultural practice of live-finch capturing from the Maltese islands,” claiming that BirdLife had been using electronic devices to eavesdrop on private mobile phone conversations. 

“Possibly, a false GSM base station known as ‘IMSI catcher’ or similar was used to intercept the trappers’ mobile traffic in the immediate area,” the hunting federation said. 

It added that the reason behind these alleged actions was to influence the European Court of Justice, which at present is presiding a case against Malta.

But MaltaToday has learnt that the would-be “eavesdropping equipment” are actually antennae set up for 15 to 20 minutes in different locations to establish accurate GPS positioning data as part of a research study on coastal land-sliding being carried out by an Italian team of experts on behalf of the University of Malta and with the full cooperation of local authorities.

The study has been going on for the past 10 years, during which time the team has also inserted a number of rods in the ground at certain strategic locations to use as reference points when extrapolating the GPS data used to identify possible movement in rock masses.

MaltaToday tracked down the leader of the Italian team, Prof Mauro Soldati, who said that the study focused mostly on coastal movement in the Northwest of Malta and that the equipment was used to gather data for mapping, monitoring and modelling.

“I can guarantee that the equipment we use does not interfere, and cannot be used to interfere, with radio or mobile transmissions,” he insisted, addressing the FKNK’s claims that the equipment was being used by BirdLife Malta and CABS to eavesdrop on mobile phone conversations.

Soldati said that one of the team’s ground rods had been damaged since the team had last been in Malta in April, resulting in a great loss of reference data for the entire project.

He said that the lost data could not be recovered or replaced, but insisted that the study would continue, especially since it was already funded through 2017 under the Council of Europe’s Major Hazards Agreement.

Soldati said that whenever his team had come across hunters while gathering geological data, they had always been treated well by them, even openly welcomed in many cases.

“They are usually cautious when approaching us, but once we explain what we are doing, many express a keen interest in our work and some even recommend which trails would be easiest to follow,” he said.

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