Malta is at risk of natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes without a 24/7 monitoring situation, a leading expert has stated, saying the island is ‘Tsunami-genic’ in its susceptibility to these disasters.
“It could happen in the next hour, we do not know,” Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), said. “An earthquake in Greece or France can affect Malta.”
The news comes just seven months after a German expert warned that Malta may be at risk of a tsunami created by the potential collapse of Mount Etna.
Considering Malta’s position in the middle of the Mediterranean, Zerbo called for the setting up of a constant monitoring system, noting that while the University of Malta does have its own seismic monitoring and research group, he believed it needed to be constant.
“Malta has an earthquake monitoring centre at the university, but that earthquake centre is not functional 24/7,” Zerbo said. “Using that information, Malta can gather information and give it to a centre for tsunami warnings. This will allow people to save lives, instead of being surprised by the tsunami.”
His warning comes after researchers at the University of Portsmouth found evidence that 20-metre tall ‘historic tsunami waves’ had crashed into Malta’s northeast coast in the past
“The last tsunami in this region dates back to 1908 – that is long ago, but you never know when a tsunami will hit”
Zerbo warned that Malta was not taking the island’s protection against natural disasters seriously, noting that a tsunami hit Malta just over 100 years ago.
“We never anticipate. We deal with crises better than we anticipate them,” he continued, pointing out that his organisation, the CTBTO, made use of a global system of seismic sensors that monitored shifts across the globe.
The 1908 tsunami originated in Messina, Sicily, killing 200,000 people. It caused shockwaves to reach Msida Creek, though no one in Malta was killed.
Since Malta was ‘tsunami-genic’ – that is, capable of generating a tsunami – he said it was absolutely essential that Malta sets up its own centre or joins the region’s tsunami centres to obtain the information needed to be constantly on the ball.
However, he did say Maltese authorities were reacting positively to his suggestions, and hoped to see the University of Malta team up with the government to set up a system to obtain the best data it can, as well as the trained personal needed to keep monitoring efficient.
“What Malta needs is a system that works,” he ended.
Malta’s location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea puts the island in a vulnerable position to seismic shocks
Dr Morelia Urlaub from Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research had recently raised concerns about how changes in Mount Etna’s flank movement could trigger a collapse that “leads to a tsunami”.
“Mount Etna is huge. It’s over 3,000 metres high and it rises up from below sea level. It’s really heavy, and it grows continuously,” she said, pointing out that slow movements at ground level and below the water level could escalate and cause part of Europe’s largest active volcano to come crashing down into the Mediterranean Sea, triggering a gigantic wave that would put islands like Sicily and Malta at risk.