Fourth ferry solves queues, but Gozo business still wants tunnel

Despite adding a fourth ferry to the Gozo Channel schedule, Gozo Business Chamber Joseph Borg highlighted that this would not be the ultimate solution for Gozitans’ accessibility to the main island

Ferry Nikolaos
Ferry Nikolaos

A fourth ferry added to the Gozo Channel schedule has done much to speed up the boarding process at the Cirkewwa and Mgarr ports: traffic queues have now decreased considerably thanks to the increased frequency of ferries.

Yet despite welcoming the fourth ferry boat – a Greek vessel called the Nikolaos – as a positive development, Gozo Business Chamber Joseph Borg still said this would not be the ultimate solution for Gozitans’ accessibility to the main island.

“We have been proposing a fourth ship for many years… but the addition of a ferry is not the ultimate solution to the problem of commuting between Malta and Gozo,” Borg said, whose business chamber is a major supporter of the Gozo-Malta tunnel, a controversial project whose hefty price tag and major environmental implications has green activists concerned.

“We feel that the fact we now have a fourth vessel is very positive and has shortened queues. But it is not the final solution,” Borg said, noting that only last Tuesday morning he waited for 30 minutes to board a ferry from Gozo.

“While an improvement on previous queueing times, it is still far from ideal.

“So the ferry should not replace the need for a tunnel. It is now more of a rare occasion when you have to wait for a long time for a ferry, so it’s a substantial improvement. But it still doesn’t replace the tunnel,” he added.

The shortcomings of the fourth ferry were further highlighted by Gozitan lawyer Joe Ellis, who frequently commutes between Gozo and Malta to carry out his court duties. Ellis told MaltaToday that, while queues have indeed been shortened, the Nikolaos was an “inferior” vessel.

“There are a considerable number of stairs on board, which make it impossible for the elderly or disabled to access the upper decks, forcing them to remain in their cars,” Ellis said.

Ellis said that, due to some of its characteristics, the ship might also encounter more problems with bad weather when navigating through rough seas than the rest of the fleet.

“No ferry service is able to operate 24/7 without fail, since factors such as bad weather, strikes or mechanical problems might come into play,” he said. “And I suspect that in winter, as demand lessens, there will be less frequent trips – although I do welcome this summer’s increased schedule.”

Ellis emphasised that he remained in favour of a permanent link connecting the two islands, remarking that Malta ought to take a leaf out of the Faroe Islands’ book, which are building two tunnels linking their islands.

“I invite everyone to look into the two tunnels which the Faroe Islands will be investing in to connect its islands. The Faroe Islands have a population of around 50,000 people, and the tunnels will total around €260 million in cost,” he said, as he suggested this showed that building a tunnel between Malta and Gozo was not a project which was out of reach.

The Faroe Islands’ subsea tunnels are 7.1km and 10.6km in length, while the tunnel between Gozo and Malta is projected to be 13km long.

Touching on the popular debate on whether it would make more sense to build a metro than a tunnel, Ellis said that the construction of one did not have to come at the expense of the other.

“It’s not a binary choice between a tunnel and a metro. We can have both a tunnel and a metro, and commuters can use both in the course of their trips.”

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