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Council seeks urgent probe over fireworks fears

Hondoq Bay and the quay where fireworks are unloaded.

Hondoq Bay and the quay where fireworks are unloaded.

Updated - Qala Council expressed concern today over the transport of fireworks through the village after it is unloaded from boats at Hondoq ir-Rummien.

It noted that fireworks were unloaded at a time when the bay was full of people, and then driven through the village.

It said that while it did not object to fireworks used in Qala being unloaded on the quay in Qala itself, it objected to have this practice for every feast in Gozo,

Yesterday, Paul Buttigieg, Qala deputy mayor, also called for an urgent investigation into the “alarming allegation” that the fireworks  they could be ignited accidentally during transport.

I think we are paying too high a price in terms of human lives for a bit of entertainment

“The authorities should call an urgent meeting with the police and fireworks manufacturers to investigate these allegations,” Paul Buttigieg said, adding that he was extremely concerned.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the fireworks trade was increasingly turning away from the traditional method of lighting petards with fuses in favour of electronic initiators or electric matches.

There is the possibility that these could be triggered by accidental impact as the fireworks are carried through the streets on trucks, or even through electromagnetic interference from high voltage cables, strong radio transmitters or even mobile phones.

Safety practice dictates that the initiator should only be attached immediately before detonation but local fireworks enthusiasts often introduce these triggers while building the petards or before leaving the factory.

This issue had been flagged up in a report by the Vella Commission, which in 2011 carried out a comprehensive review of fireworks accidents of the past 30 years and made a series of recommendations, which have so far not been implemented.

When contacted yesterday Mr Buttigieg said he would be raising the issue during the next council meeting. The council, he said, was already looking into what measures it could take to control the amount of fireworks passing through the Gozitan village.

Two years ago he recommended having more drop-off points where fireworks transported by sea from Malta could be offloaded. This would mean smaller quantities of explosives being carried through villages at one time.

He said measures were needed to ensure that fireworks, currently transported in trucks, were carried in safe containers. It is not only fireworks destined for Gozo that are transported in large quantities, often exceeding one ton, but also those set to be let off from barges in the Grand Harbour or in the Sliema/St Julian’s area.

Joe Morana, from the Sliema Residents’ Association, said it was the first he had heard of this hazard and was “very concerned”.

He said he would raise the issue during the next committee meeting to ensure it was looked into.

“The authorities must ensure there is no risk to residents and that fireworks are transported according to safety regulations,” he said.

“I like fireworks but I think we are paying too high a price in terms of human lives for a bit of entertainment. I am ready to live without fireworks if it means saving lives,” he said referring to last week’s explosion at the Għarb fireworks factory when four people were killed.

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