By Sofia Jesus

The demolition of structures in two lots of Lai Chi Vun’s old shipyards, in Coloane — allegedly for safety reasons — has sparked feelings of nostalgia and loss among Macau citizens. Fortunately, it has also sparked action.

In the last few days, petitions have been launched in order to ask Government officials to suspend further demolition intentions in the area and assess the cultural and historical value of the old Lai Chi Vun shipyards. One of them was started by architect João Palla — it argues those buildings “constitute a form of architectural heritage built by the shipbuilders themselves that is proof of a unique cultural identity”. It also accuses the Government of “claiming security issues without however having undertaken a study or developed a plan of what to do next”. “We call for the preservation of shipyards wooden structures and their renovation for the use of activities related to culture; from museological areas, handicrafts, artistic-pedagogical centre, workshops and leisure,” the petition says.

This coming Saturday, March 18, from 3 pm, a guided tour to Lai Chi Vun’s shipyards will take place. The event is organised by the publication All About Macau, which will be selling a map with information about each shipyard lot and old ships. According to Jornal Tribuna de Macau, the event is called Our Past: Stories of the fishing village of Lai Chi Vun and the map was created with the collaboration of architects and other experts in the field. The organisers are quoted saying the village is a part of Macau’s history and deserves a bigger protection than only two shipyards transformed in a museum.

The Macao Heritage Ambassadors Association has also been active voicing out concern about the cultural value of the area and has asked for more transparency in the process.

The intention of turning a section of Lai Chi Vun’s old shipyards into a museum had already been announced by secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam, almost a year ago, soon after the area was sealed off for protection. But details of the Government’s plan for Lai Chi Vun are not known yet.

I do not question whether there is indeed a danger for public safety in  some of the old shipyards — even some residents agree there was and these first demolitions were necessary. But I do wonder why it seems so hard to know exactly what will happen next and when; why it seems to be so difficult for authorities to explain why they had to demolish — and may have to demolish further — part of the old shipyards’ structures instead of investing in restoration works.

A museological centre is, of course, something to be welcomed by all, I imagine. But if all around it disappears, it seems a bit pointless to me.

I hope the citizens’ voices that are raising awareness to this issue will be heard, and, at least, some detailed explanations will be given by relevant authorities. To villagers, to shipyard owners, to former boat builders, to us all. For this ship has NOT sailed — I hope.