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MALTATODAY 19 June 2022

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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 19 JUNE 2022 NEWS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 The anarchic situation in the Blue Lagoon was exposed in last week's direct action by Graffitti activists, followed by a govern- ment decision to stop operators from putting sunbeds on the sandy beach. But as the activists pointed out, the long-term solu- tion to the problem requires a limit on the number of tourists reaching the ecologically sensi- tive beach. Significantly, one of the meas- ures the approved Comino Man- agement Plan establishes as an operational objective is "to plan and implement a tourism carry- ing capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon". The management plan states that the tourism carrying-capacity assessment should be carried out within the first year of the plan's imple- mentation. But six years down the line it remains unclear whether a study to establish the Blue Lagoon's carrying capacity has ever been done. MaltaToday asked the Envi- ronment and Resources Au- thority to state whether it had carried out the carrying-capac- ity assessment as laid down in the management plan. But the ERA completely evaded these questions, insisting that it is just "one of the competent entities addressing Comino and its flora and fauna." "Within this context, and as part of the ongoing management process, ERA is implementing the approved plan on the ground which is implemented with oth- er competent implementing en- tities," the ERA spokesperson told MaltaToday. Actions taken by ERA include works on the management of the Qala (Comino) area, where work is ongoing on the restoration of the marshland (funded by the United Nations Environment Programme), habitat restoration works, removal of invasive alien species, clean ups, forestation projects and camping at Tal-Ful. Moreover ERA confirmed that the management plan is current- ly being revised as part of the management revision process. Working group had proposed curator for Comino MaltaToday is informed that in February 2017, months after the approval of the ERA's man- agement plan, a working group formed by people from different government entities including the Malta Tourism Authori- ty, had presented government with a detailed document enti- tled "Management Measures for Comino". Apart from capping the num- ber of boats and tourists, the recommendations included the appointment of an island cura- tor responsible for keeping op- erators in line with regulations. The document, written five years ago, denounced that while the MTA promotes Comino as an "idealised place" the reality was "completely different" and one characterised by "huge numbers of visitors" who visit the islands during the peak season. "All of this, coupled with lack of adher- ence to regulations by operators, has led to negative marketing of Malta's sister island." The document also denounced that the area catering for the boats is substantially larger than that allotted to swimmers and the proximity of the mooring areas to the Blue Lagoon itself detracts from the beauty of the place. The document refers to MTA statistics showing that at the majority of those visiting the Blue Lagoon arrive by means of organised cruises (between 3,500-4,000 visitors in summer 2016), with others using the wa- ter taxis, from Ċirkewwa, Mġarr and Sliema (between 500-1,000 in summer 2016). The vision proposed for Comi- no clearly stated that t o u r - ism activity at the Blue Lagoon, Santa Marija Bay, and the other popular bays within the Comi- no (both in the sea and on land), should be "controlled effectively, in order to be practiced in har- mony with Comino's conserva- tion needs." It also proposes a management committee to be set up under the MTA, with par- ticipation from the tourism and Gozo ministrie, the ERA and Transport Malta. One of the tasks assigned to the new committee was to "finally draft a carrying capacity for the island of Comino", specifically by identifying the different car- rying capacities for each of the existing tourism and recreation- al activities on Comino, with pri- ority given to initially establish- ing the carrying capacity of the Blue Lagoon, Santa Marija Bay, and the other popular bays and marine areas. The committee also had to identify "management options" to implement the carrying-ca- pacity study, extend the swim- mers' zone to ensure boats are moored further out from the shoreline, as well as appoint an island curator to manage the land and sea activities according to licensing obligations. Significantly, the long-term goal was to declare the sea around Comino as an anchor-free area, with visiting boats obliged to use specially installed mooring facil- ities instead of dropping anchor. The working group had also studied the possibility of in- troducing a number of fees to generate the required income for the management of the site. Among the options considered was the introduction of a special licence for water transport oper- ators taking visitors to Comino and the introduction of an en- vironmental contribution for all visitors to Comino. The tourism carrying-capacity study would establish the num- ber of visitors appropriate for the existing tourism and recrea- tion activities within Comino. The decision on whether to introduce a fee or not was to be taken at a later stage after the is- land's carrying capacity was es- tablished and following consul- tation with stakeholders. Carrying-capacity study for Comino tourists and boats pending since 2016 MATTHEW AGIUS A 47-year-old man from Bormla has been jailed for 15 years after jurors delivered a rare 9-0 guilty verdict late on Friday night. In view of the jurors' unanimity, Mr Jus- tice Aaron Bugeja, presiding over the trial that was held behind closed doors, handed down the maximum punishment. The father had been charged of raping his then nine-year-old daughter twice. The man's name is not being published in order to safeguard the rights of his daugh- ter. The trial was also held behind closed doors for this reason. The abuse had only come to light, many years later, after the child had opened up to a religious doctrine teacher at MUSEUM. In 2015, the man's request for a constitu- tional reference, in which he made several claims of rights breaches, amongst them that he had been denied access to a lawyer before and during interrogation and that his detention in pre-trial custody exceeded the limit imposed by law, had been reject- ed by the Criminal Court, and later also by the Constitutional court. Although the trial jury was not open to the public, details of the Bill of Indictment had emerged in a 2015 decision by the Criminal Court dismissing his preliminary pleas, in which his request for a Constitu- tional reference was also rejected. Being described as "frivolous and vexatious" by the presiding judge. The bill of indictment quoted in that judgment described how the nine-year-old girl's father had raped her, both vaginally and anally, on two separate occasions, once in her bedroom and once in her brother's bedroom. The prosecution was led by lawyers An- thony Vella and Kaylie Bonnet from the office of the Attorney General. Lawyer To- nio Azzopardi was defence counsel. Man jailed 15 years for raping daughter

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