In the past, Wied iz-Zurrieq was mainly considered as the place where the fishermen of the neighbouring areas could earn their livelihood. In the early 1950's English service men and their families started frequenting Wied iz-Zurrieq for swimming and every now and then, they used to ask fishermen to take them along for a boat ride. On account of the nature of their work, this was not always possible for the fishermen to do so. Instead however, there were usually the fishermen's sons, who used to take the English servicemen and their families for a ride to the Blue Grotto. Gradually, these boat rides started to gain popularity and at a certain point, there were about eight small boats carrying on these kind of trips.
As often happens, in the absence of organisation and regulations, problems started to crop up between the boat owners. Accordingly, the 1958 Government decided to regulate the situation by imposing the requirement of having a licence on boat owners who wish to carry out the said boat trips to the Blue Grotto.
Obtaining a licence was made subject to various conditions. In the first place, the applicant was required to be the owner of the boat itself. Moreover, the said boat was to be certified by a surveyor, who would confirm whether it was adequate to carry passengers. At that time, boats were licenced to carry between 3 and five passengers. On the other hand, outboards (which were usually "Seagull 4HP") were certified by an engineer. It was also obligatory to have a pair of oars, life jackets (one for each passenger), a life buoy, a fire extinguisher, a bucket full of sand and a long rope. The boatmen (known as coxswains) were also required to sit for an exam set by the Captain of Ports in order for their ability and skill at sea to be ascertained. One observes that many of the above requirements are still applicable today, although some may have slightly modified over the years.
In 1958, the Government issued eight licences for those already carrying out the work in an unregulated manner. Another four licences were issued in 1962. During this period, the number of tourists visiting Malta increased. Hence, more licences were required, that by 1964 there were a total of 59 licences. With such a large number of licences, one began to realise that the area at Wied iz-Zurrieq, from where the business is operated, is rather small for all licence holders at the time.
As a result of the above, the Blue Grotto Boat Service group was set up in 1968. A committee within this group was appointed and a statute was drafted in order to regulate in an orderly manner the operation of boat trips to the Blue Grotto. Much emphasis was also placed on the security of passengers. From a study, which was undertaken, it was evident that not more then 25 boats could operate in one same day. This lead to the creation of two shifts.
With regards to passengers security, the Blue Grotto Boat Service strives to ensure that apart from giving the tourist a good service, the tourist feels that he is in a secure environment. Indeed, for the past twelve years licence holders have been covered by an insurance policy. In addition, before operating, it is always ascertained that the seas are adequate so as not to put the tourist in any danger. In fact to the boatmens financial detriment, no work is undertaken whenever there is a southern wind which gives rise to very rough seas at Wied iz-Zurrieq. The decision whether to operate or otherwise, is considered as a very serious issue. In fact, the decision of whether the weather permits or not, is taken by the Blue Grotto Boat Service Committee in consultation with its members.
Furthermore, we ensure that the tourists are seated in such a way that the correct balance on the boat is achieved. Members of the Blue Grotto Boat Service help tourists to get into the boat. We also pay attention to the needs of the elderly people and people with special needs. In line with our system, there are always two or three boats in the area, so as for one boat to be able to give help to the other, whenever the need should arise. The place is always widely frequented by swimmers. One should point out that in the last forty years, we had no accidents in this respect. We can also proudly state that at times we are called to assist swimmers when encountering difficulty, and hence we feel that this is also our duty.
Finally I am very pleased and satisfied to state that the ever present cooperation between Blue Grotto Boat Service and the authorities has lead to the very good service being given to tourists and Maltese citizens, and this augurs well for the future.
A trip from the past to the present