Marsa’s ‘potato shed’: a den of criminality with a window to the high sea

'There are legitimate businesses that operate there but some of the warehouses are just meetings places for unsavoury characters,' says a Marsa resident

The large, rusty metal structure on the quay in the inner part of the Grand Harbour used to serve as a shed for potato exports.

But last Monday it was the site of a massive police and army raid during which several men suspected of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder were arrested.

Intensive searches were conducted in the shed and other warehouses situated along the quay as the national and international spotlight turned to this promontory below the former Marsa power station.

The potato sheds have direct access to the Grand Harbour
The potato sheds have direct access to the Grand Harbour

Jutting out into the harbour, the quay forms part of the Menqa area in Marsa, an industrial zone that is home to numerous warehouses, decrepit buildings, offices and some residences. The area also houses the Marsa regatta club.

But for many the area is also known as a den for hardened criminals.

When MaltaToday visited the site on the day of the arrests, a man who works in the area was not surprised the police zoomed in on the zone.

“There are two warehouses back there used by drug dealers,” he whispered, indicating with his head the environs of the ex-potato shed. The area is ideal for such activity. It is a desolate place for most of the time and crucially has direct access to a quay where boats can berth and offload contraband, drugs or illegal oil.

“Every Saturday we see luxury cars – BMWs, Mercedes and Corvettes – driving in towards the warehouses,” the worker told this newspaper.

His is not an isolated understanding of what goes on in the area. A Marsa resident confirmed the area was notorious for the criminal elements that often congregate in the area.

“There are legitimate businesses that operate there but some of the warehouses are just meetings places for unsavoury characters,” the resident said.

Judging by the police operation last Monday, the descriptions of the area relayed to this newspaper by people who work and live in the area are not off the mark.

Sources close to the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation have indicated that the Menqa area was the focal point for the criminal gang to which the Degiorgio brothers formed part of.

And they may not have been the only criminals to operate in the area. MaltaToday is informed that the quay in the area has often been used by vessels suspected of carrying smuggled diesel.

The police are not oblivious to the happenings in the area. It is a criminal hotspot but random raids without prior knowledge of specific activity are likely to yield nothing.

A police source told this newspaper that a boat belonging to ex-international footballer Darren Debono berthed in the area had been searched some months ago on a tipoff that it may have been used for illegal activity. The search resulted in the negative.

It was surveillance and sophisticated electronic tracking that allowed Monday’s raid to be successful. The criminals were caught completely unaware as heavily armed police and soldiers raided the buildings from and sea.

Although access to the potato shed was open on Tuesday morning, police officers were still around.

In the afternoon, journalists were then pushed away as a van with armed police officers and the army’s bomb disposal appeared on site to resume searches in other warehouses.

Whether the police activity over the past few days is enough to smoke out the illegal activity that takes place in the Menqa area still has to be seen.

But the people who spoke to this newspaper are not too sure this will be the case unless the police presence continues to be felt every day.