On the 23rd June 1988, Dockyard workers blocked access to the Grand Harbour, so as not to allow in the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. The Ark Royal had to divert its route and enter Saint Paul’s Bay.
Michael Grech spoke to Sammy Meilaq, then chairperson of the Malta Dockyard and one of the organisers of the event.
Michael Grech: Why did you and a number of Dockyard workers decide to block the entrance to the Grand Harbour so as not to allow HMS Ark Royal to enter it?
Sammy Meilaq: In 1988 we blocked the entrance of the harbour to stop the Ark Royal from entering to show our opposition to nuclear weapons in general but also to oppose their stationing in Malta. These were our primary aims. We also felt that our action would form part of the global opposition to all weapons of mass destruction, and it would show a strong commitment towards disarmament, including the disarmament in the Mediterranean region.
What morally and/or politically legitimised this illegal act?
I find the questioning of the legitimacy of the blockade surprising, to say the least. In all the decisions and in all the actions that we took the question was never even mentioned. It is a self-evident truth that it is one’s moral duty to oppose the production and deployment of weapons of mass destruction.
Would you have done the same thing had Labour been in office?
This is totally hypothetical as up to that time the Labour Party policy was to oppose such weapons and to reject any demands from foreign warships carrying nukes to use Maltese facilities. Still, if the case had been under a Labour government, we would have opposed it just the same. Obviously our muscle would have been smaller due to the possibility of less support by labour “party faithful”. But again, this is all hypothetical and I cannot connect any relevance to how the blockade was in fact carried out, its importance, etc.
Do you think that today people in Malta are sufficiently aware of the threat of nuclear weapons in particular, and war in general, even considering Malta’s proximity to many active battle zones? Do you think the media and other sites, where public opinion is formed, are making them sufficiently aware?
I am sure that people in Malta are not sufficiently aware of the fact that we stand right in the centre of a potential-hell-breaking-loose called the Mediterranean Sea. Nukes in Sicily, France, Turkey and Israel; nukes on warships of the United States, Russia, and Britain; nukes on submarines; a continuous 70-year old military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and their Arab/Muslim supporters (with no sign that it will somehow be resolved in the coming 70 years); a looming stand-off between the USA/Israel and Iran; and chaos is Libya is now the normality.
The media is not adequately raising awareness about these facts, and a lot more can and should be done in this regard. This lack of awareness, though, is also caused by the fact that discussing these issues is de facto banned in our Parliament. It is evidently clear that there is a tacit agreement between government and opposition to drastically reduce public discussion on the matter.
The Maltese constitution forbids the country from joining any military alliance but enjoins the government of the day to actively work for peace. Do you think government is doing enough in this regard?
I’m sure that during the last decade both Nationalists and Labour have not acted according to Malta’s Constitution with regard to neutrality.
Malta was an accomplice in the war waged against the government of Gaddafi in Libya; an illegal war of aggression. Libya is now in chaos.
To date Malta has not signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons of the United Nations. This Treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use, and threats to use, of nuclear weapons. It also binds those countries that possess nuclear weapons to eliminate them. The Treaty was passed by vote in the United Nations in July 2017. It is now being signed and ratified by all countries that agree with it. Malta seems to be still undecided whether to be on the side of disarmament and rationality or to go on the side of the corporations that produce armaments and on the side of irrationality.
Now there is talk about amending the Constitution. The only sensible way forward for Malta is to add to the neutrality clause that we should strive for disarmament. I suspect, though, that reactionary political elements from both political sides would want to alter the Constitution in such a way that would allow Malta to participate in warfare. If this would be the case, then all socialists must oppose it with full force.
A detailed narration of the events can be found in his book Biċċiet Minni.