Malta urged to keep a better look-out for tsunamis

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization executive secretary Lassina Zerbo. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Malta has so far taken its protection from natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis for granted, an international body has warned.

Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) said the country should step up its monitoring of earthquakes and tsunamis.

A CTBTO delegation was in Malta to encourage the government to establish a 24/7 monitoring system that gathers data about potential natural disasters.

“The last tsunami in this region dates back to 1908 – that is long ago, but you never know when a tsunami will hit,” he said.

“It could happen in the next hour, we do not know. An earthquake in Greece or France can affect Malta,” Mr Zarbo said.

Scientists investigating evidence of tsunami damage on Comino in 2014.Scientists investigating evidence of tsunami damage on Comino in 2014.

University monitoring 

The University of Malta currently has its own seismic monitoring and research group, but Mr Zerbo is concerned this is not being monitored constantly.

“Malta has an earthquake monitoring centre at the university, but that earthquake centre is not functional 24/7,” Mr Zerbo said.

The CTBTO has an international monitoring system that is made of seismic sensors, distributed around the globe.

“Using that information, Malta can gather information and give it to a centre for tsunami warnings,” he said.

The island is “tsunami-genic”, Mr Zerbo said, so it was critical for Malta to have its own centre or for it to be part of an overall region of tsunami centres that will provide the information it needs.

“This will allow people to save lives, instead of being surprised by the tsunami,” he said.

“We never anticipate. We deal with crises better than we anticipate them,” Mr Zerbo added, noting this was human nature.

He also said authorities seemed open to the idea and hoped the government and the university would join forces to get the best data gathered by the monitoring system.

“What Malta needs is a system that works,” he said, adding continuous coverage will ensure the country can be prepared for when the next natural disaster hits.

The CTBTO has also trained professionals in Malta in order to help with continuous monitoring.

READ: Malta might not be prepared for a natural disaster

Malta’s tsunami history

The 1908 tsunami was the result of a 7.4 Richter scale earthquake in Messina, Sicily that killed around 200,000 people.

The tsunami caused waves to crash into Msida creek. No one was killed. 

Experts have warned that the South-Eastern side of Mt Etna in Sicily is slowly sliding into the sea and could collapse suddenly, causing a tsunami in the Mediterranean. A large part of the eastern side of Mt Etna is believed to have collapsed some 7,000 years ago, causing a major tsunami in the central and eastern Mediterranean.

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth have found geological evidence of “historic tsunami waves” that swept over Malta’s north east coast and up to 20 metres above sea level in some places.

READ: UK expert urges Malta to re-evaluate tsunami risk

The Civil Protection Department subsequently said that it had a disaster master plan catering for such eventualities and it was also conducting a national risk assessment.

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