Malta Diary Deaths and tragedies last year; fireworks expected in 2017 2016 goes out with a bang and 2017 comes in with a bang
Looking at the past year in retrospect, many Maltese and Gozitans will gladly say goodbye. It was certainly a tumultuous year pockmarked by deaths, accidents and some international incidents that are hard to explain and included an aircraft crash and an aircraft hijacking.
The greatest scourge was road deaths and accidents in a year during which traffic jams became a curse, underscored by 23 deaths on roads, a record number for a 12-month period, nine of which were motorcyclists who lost their lives. There were also five homicides which included two passion killings, the result of a brutal beating and two car-bomb explosions which blew the drivers to Mafia-style smithereens.
Perhaps the incident that made greatest headlines was the crash of a French Metroliner aircraft at Safi shortly after its airport take-off, a tragedy that claimed the lives of five persons, all Frenchmen, who were on board. However, as evidenced by a film caught coincidentally on dash-cam, the consequences of the incident could have been even more serious had it crashed on the nearby village of Safi or an equally close large industrial plant employing 2,000 people.
A spectacular film of the crash featured all over the world and was seen time and again locally and on social media. This was Malta’s greatest air tragedy over the last 41 years but remains shrouded in mystery not because of the crash itself because this was judged to have been a technical fault but because of the mystery on the actual scope of the mission the aircraft was on and why it was in Malta. The French Government has never confirmed that the victims were members of its secret services but it is known the aircraft had carried out flights in Libyan airspace.
Just two days before Christmas, Malta experienced the hijacking of a Libyan Afriqiyah Airways aircraft that was on an internal flight and scheduled to land in Tripoli. However, two of its Libyan passengers had other plans, claimed to be armed, hijacked the aircraft and ordered the captain to land in Malta. Two hours after landing in Malta, the 109 passengers on board were released but perhaps the most memorable scene was when one of the two hijackers stepped out of the aircraft waving a green flag, Libya’s national flag during the Gaddafi regime.
Shortly after, the two hijackers surrendered. Initial investigations established the arms they were carrying were in fact non-functional replicas. On Christmas Day the two hijackers were arraigned in Court under heavily-armed escort and although the incident involved many dramatic hours, all ended well.
There is a Maltese saying which states that the dawn will indicate how the rest of the day will unfurl. In fact the first road victim died on 5th January at Naxxar when a young Italian woman died after a collision between her motorcycle and a truck.
Two weeks later another road incident claimed the life of a mother and housewife who was a passenger in a vehicle with her son, driven by her husband, an incident that occurred in St Andrew’s Road in St Julian’s, the same road that on 16th December claimed another road victim when a young Dutchman lost his life.
The death toll went on and on at a regular pace and sadly included a 97-year-old man who was knocked down near his home in Manikata and a 17-year-old girl holidaying in Malta following a collision.
Motorcyclists heavily featured. With Malta’s traffic increasing daily at the rate of 35 new cars a day taking to the roads, a motorcycle seemed to be the best method of avoiding lengthy gridlocks. Some of the deaths were due to excessive speed and others the result of negligence by vehicle drivers.
The final death occurred a couple of days before the end of the year when a Maltese international kick-boxer who was holidaying in Malta plunged over cliffs onto rocks while riding a quad-bike together with five other quad-bikers out on a joy ride, one of them being his twin brother who helplessly witnessed the tragedy.
During the year there were six bomb incidents, two of them resulting in the deaths of two victims in Mafia-style car bombs but so far no suspects have been detained. It was a different story with three homicides, two of which were women and were certainly passion killings spurred by jealousy and two men are under arrest of arraignment. In Paceville, Carlos Augusto De la Espriella Perez, a Colombian student, was badly beaten with a broken glass as well as being badly punched and later died of his wounds and subsequently two Libyans arrested and charged with his manslaughter.
The seas around Malta and Gozo also claimed victims in 2016. The first incident happened on 1st January when a Polish couple were dragged out to sea and drowned in Qala in Gozo.
Maltese swimmers, a Hungarian and a Slovak all lost their lives in separate incidents after experiencing difficulties while swimming. An elderly 76-year-old Englishman died at Ħondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo when he was struck by a boat propeller. A German woman diver died at Marsalforn, also in Gozo.
Mystery still surrounds the death of the German youth who was found dead on the rocks at Dingli and although there were no signs his death had been caused by any aggression, a number of his personal items have still not been traced. It seems he was abseiling the cliffs at Dingli with his bicycle strapped to his back when he slipped and crashed onto the rocks below.
Over and above a number of work-related deaths and incidents mostly in the construction industry there was the Gudja incident on 30th October involving fireworks manufacturers when a container full of fireworks exploded but very fortunately there were no victims.
So indeed, adieu to 2016 and welcome to 2017.
With all those tragedies behind us now, Malta has jolted forward to its next Big Bang, the role of Presidency of the EU Council for the first six months of 2017, from 1st January to 30th June.
Old timers may well recall that classic film featuring the much-loved British comic actor Peter Sellars, ‘The Mouse That Roared’, a film from the late 1950s in which a small European Duchy managed to get its hands on a nuclear bomb and held the world to ransom, including the then Super-Powers, the USA and the USSR!
In a similar vein but hopefully not in the same menacing manner, over the next six months the smallest EU state and one of the smallest countries in Europe – and the world for that matter – Malta will be holding the role of Presidency of the EU Council following a six month stint by Slovakia in the latter six months of 2016.
The Presidency of the Council of the European Union holds the responsibility for the functioning of the Council of the European Union which is the Upper House of the EU Legislature. The role is held by a national government and is not an individual role and its function is to chair Council Meetings, determine agendas, establish a work programme and facilitate dialogue.
It rotates among all EU Member Countries every six months, Malta being preceded by Slovakia and will be succeeded by Estonia although the role of Presidency from July to December 2017 should have been held by Great Britain but of course will now not be.
The role is largely administrative and normally routine. However, this time round it will be a role replete with tricky barbs and a rather delicate agenda for a great number of reasons.
The European Union is in danger of disintegrating, indeed collapsing because of widespread disillusionment among large sectors of its European electorate. Britain has already decided to ‘Brexit’. After the French General Election later this year there may well be a ‘Fraxit’ and similar developments may well swirl around The Netherlands, Italy and a number of other EU Member Countries.
‘Brexit’ negotiations will strongly mark the coming six months and many sparks will surely fly. The rest of the EU has already shown its determination to hold firm and ensure – in the words of Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat – that ‘Britain can’t have its cake and eat it’, this despite Malta always having been a close partner-buddy of the UK.
An equally major item has been placed on the agenda, that of illegal and sustained immigration, a scourge that has largely affected member countries around the Mediterranean basin, particularly Greece, Italy and Malta. This has been a largely growing sore for years but was conveniently neglected by northern European members who claimed this was a ‘Mediterranean problem’.
Now the scourge has spread around the whole of Europe with strong reactions by Hungary, Rumania, Croatia and a number of other eastern European members and some refusing to accept their quota as set by the EU.
This is an equally sensitive and tricky area and will be bound to generate sparks aplenty. A further part of Malta’s agenda is EU unemployment, greater social inclusion and attempts to tackle widespread EU poverty and a growing gap between the ‘haves’ and have nots’.
Malta’s Presidency logo was chosen from submissions from 28 Maltese art students and resulted in the choice of a Maltese cross-themed logo.
Undoubtedly, interesting months lie ahead and include a summit of all EU Leaders which will also be held in Malta.