Gozo’s diving industry being seriously affected by film set closure
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Local dive centres have reported cancelled dives and disappointed customers due to the closure of Mgarr ix Xini, Ta Cenc and Fessej Rock, which have been closed off to allow the new movie ‘By The Sea,’ with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to be filmed there.
The areas have been closed since the 24th of August and were due to re-open on the 15th October, but over the past weeks this date has been moved back several times. The latest re-open date, according to the Ministry for Home Affairs and the Ministry for Tourism is the 10th of November.
The dive centres said that there was no consultation process held prior to the decision to close these areas and they believe the government is in breach of European legislation.
Two meetings were hastily arranged, the dive centres said, when they met with the Minister for Tourism, Dr Edward Zammit Lewis and the Film Commissioner, Engelbert Grech to discuss how access to these dive sites could be obtained only when the North West wind prevents diving anywhere other than the south coast.
Whilst it was agreed at the meeting there should be a process in place to allow the divers access on these days, so far permission to dive there has been denied. The dive centres said that it appears the Government has no consideration for the diving industry.
Without these dive sites available there are only two other sheltered spots accessible on the south coast. With 12 dive centres on Gozo, plus others from Malta diving here on a daily basis, these sites become very crowded and there is concern for diver safety due to the numbers of divers in a limited area and the possibility that some divers may be forced to dive at little known dive sites as an alternative.
The dive centres said that they do not want to prevent the filming taking place but are asking for appropriate consideration to be given to the many holidaymakers, including divers who have paid money to enjoy these areas.
The centres added, that they feel that is not inconceivable that a plan of compromise can be put in place, indeed they said that many ideas were presented to the Minister of Tourism as to how this would work, and so they are now questioning why they are being ignored.
Brian Azzopardi, owner Atlantis Dive Centre said “our best advertising is the word of mouth and after slowly building up my reputation for over the past 20 years, I am afraid that the same ‘word of mouth’ will result in loss of tourists next year.
“When the northwest wind blows, and this is the prevailing wind of the Maltese Islands, we are stuck with only 2 sheltered dive spots, having lost 3 (Mgarr ix-Xini, Ta Cenc & Fessej Rock) to the filming industry. Our clients are already complaining and cancelling dives when we are forced into diving on the same 2 dive spots for a whole week.”
“The needs of the diving industry are being totally ignored and the money generated from the film is welcome but at what cost?” David Hayler-Montague, Director of Diving at Bubbles Dive Centre said.
“This farcical situation has meant tourists who are paying good money are having their diving holidays ruined due to the closure of over 50% of diving sites on Gozo when the North West winds prevail. Why we were never consulted about this film has never been explained. Dive centres have worked hard to build up the diving industry here, especially in the light of the problems in Egypt and now the mis-guided priorities of some are ruining all the good work achieved?”
Diving is a multi-million euro industry in Gozo when taking into account the subsequent hotel, bars, restaurant, transport incomes and there is a concern that if the reputation of diving here is tarnished the whole island economy will suffer for many years to come, the Dive Centres concluded.