Malta Drydocks last week signed an agreement with the United States Navy enabling
it to bid for ship repair work on U.S. vessels but the opposition Labor Party said the deal violated the island's neutrality. Economic Services Minister Josef Bonnici said the agreement did not violate the constitution since the dockyard would only bid for work on auxiliary vessels, such as tankers. Repairs would not be carried out in military emergencies. The agreement, he said, was part of the government's efforts to find more work for loss-making Malta Drydocks and would serve as an advertisement for the dockyard to win more commercial work from American shipowners.
Opposition leader Alfred Sant said a future Labor government would withdraw from the agreement, which, he said, also damaged work prospects from Arab countries.
The U.S. Navy offered Malta Drydocks a similar agreement in 1995 but it was rejected by the then dockyard management because of their concern over the constitution. At the time the U.S. embassy said Malta Drydocks could have won contracts worth $30 million per year.