Published on the Times of Malta on Wednesday 19th September 2012.
Can anybody blame the residents of Qala who are doing their utmost to stop truckloads of fireworks driving through their village practically throughout the whole festa season? They say they cannot understand, either, why fireworks manufactured in Malta and transported to Gozo by boat are all offloaded at the near Ħondoq ir-Rummien bay.
This happens across the Maltese islands in summer even if not as often as in Qala. According to the National Statistics Office, 122 feasts were celebrated at parish level last year, including 95 primary feasts. Most of the primary feasts, if not secondary ones too, would have included fireworks.
The NSO reported that enthusiasts spent €1.5 million on such parish feasts, about a third of the money going into external activities, including fireworks.
These figures give a vague idea of the quantity of fireworks that is transported through various towns and villages at different times of the day and possibly night.
Recently the Civil Protection Department said it was “very concerned” that, in an effort to cut costs, village feast organisers did not always ensure that fire engines were on standby when fireworks were let off, as the rules demanded.
For the record, Pyrotechnics Association president Joseph Camilleri insisted this was “never the case” because having a fire engine on site was not a choice.
The CPD statement is, of course, very worrying for if feast organisers tend to find ways and means to save some money, one can never be sure what corners they and fireworks manufacturers are prepared to cut when transporting highly explosive material.
The dangers of transporting fireworks by road and by sea were raised by a board of inquiry that looked into accidents at fireworks factories over the years.
In its findings published late last year, it suggested that, to ease danger, the transport operation should be held as early as possible in the morning, when the roads are not so busy, and under police escort.
Transfers to Gozo should, likewise, be held in early morning. Ideally, the board of inquiry noted, in Marfa fireworks should be loaded onto a barge, which is then towed by a sea craft at such a distance that would offer protection for the crew in case of explosion.
The inquiry board raised a worrying point when it said that, to its knowledge, no vehicles existed in Malta that could withstand an accidental explosion caused by a normal load of fireworks being transported on land.
What is positive, and this is also highlighted in the inquiry findings, is that over the past 30 years there have not been any accidents during the carriage of fireworks for village feasts that had any serious consequences. However, although the risk may be minor, the danger is not necessarily negligible.
Urgent action is therefore required to ensure that all precautions are taken when handling fireworks.
This must start from the moment the material is imported/purchased, storage, its transport to the various fireworks factories, during the manufacturing process, carriage to the firing site and then when letting off the fireworks during the feast or whatever the joyous occasion may be.
It’s been almost nine months since the inquiry board’s extensive report was published. And yet very little, if anything, seems to have been done about it on the ground as the fears expressed by the Qala residents prove.
There is no need to wait for the start of another festa season to act.