The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

The case for developing the Malta Maritime Cluster (MMC)

Thursday, 8 January 2015, 11:31 Last update: about 7 years ago

by Godwin Xerri

Managing Director

Combined Maritime Services

Maritime Consultants ‒ members of the Malta Shortsea Promotion Centre

According to a study published by Policy Research Corporation in 2008, Malta employs 7,600 people in the traditional maritime sectors, 11,000 people in coastal and sea related recreational and tourism and 1,400 persons in fisheries. These three areas make up for 20,000 jobs out of a working population of 190,000 people which represents 10.5% of Malta's work force. 

If Malta has one resource which is infinite for as long as Malta remains an island is the sea and if managed with prudence and wisdom it is bound to continue generating livelihood to a substantial percentage of the Maltese population and even then at an incremental rate. The pity is that although Malta by its very own geographical definition is a maritime nation and different government administrations have included the promotion of Malta as a maritime centre in their policies, it has not always been the case that due attention and focus was given to this sector to ensure that it has all that it requires to be a truly reputable maritime centre. Rather, even still today, maritime careers are not as high in the status ranking as other industries are. This lack of awareness and appreciation of the maritime industry is manifested in two main areas, namely:

a)      The absence of in-depth professional studies to define the effective contribution of the industry to the national economy; and

b)      The lack of appropriate degree courses at University level. 

On a more positive and optimistic outlook there seems to be a growing awareness both at a political and industry level to harness the potential of the maritime sector and turn it into an economic motor which can only produce multiplier effects given the span and extent of the industry segments which go to make up the maritime industry. As is unfortunately often the case, within this industry Malta lags behind other European countries who have had clear visions and focus to bring together the various maritime sectors thereby creating meaningful clusters which are today well established, important leading components of the maritime industry, and powerful policy instruments that lead to the generation of economic wealth. 

In a study published by the European Commission in 2008, it was stated that "the maritime industries throughout Europe contribute to the wellbeing of all Europeans ... the majority of the external trade of the European Union is transported by sea. The seas around Europe also provide a rich source of conventional and renewable energy generation. Europe's coastal regions are home to maritime industrial activities such as ship building and among the world's top destination for tourists." Such a statement immediately brings to the fore the wide diversity of economic activity which is generated through the maritime industry. 

One of the various definitions of European Maritime Clusters is the one which states that "a maritime cluster is an organisation that aims to promote and enhance the strength of maritime sectors and activities". Maritime Clusters are useful platforms for the involvement of all stake holders and positive proof of this can be found in European countries that have made a success out of the maritime cluster such as France, Germany, Holland and Belgium. When assessing the local scenario from this European perspective, we are lagging behind to a large extent. The island's mentality makes us introspective and lacking a view of the wider picture. The fear of sharing information with competitors hinders innovation and development. Furthermore, there is too much fragmentation within this industry which within a European context is too small to take any advantage emanating from economies of scale. Paradoxically it is because of this reality, that is, small scale, that Malta needs to cluster together all the segments of the maritime industry. Our small size and relatively limited turnover at industry level are at times precluding us from participating in EU tenders. Taking the cue from European success stories in maritime clustering, one can find, as for example in the case of the French Maritime Cluster, that there are no less than 42 cross sector groupings which between them represent:

  • Shipping and maritime transport
  • Maritime services (ports and ports services)
  • Port Terminals
  • Ship management companies
  • Ship registration companies
  • Shipbrokers
  • Classification societies
  • Maritime consultants
  • Banking sector
  • Law firms
  • Insurance brokers
  • Unions
  • Ship building and ship repair
  • Offshore
  • Fisheries
  • Cruise and nautical tourism
  • Yachting
  • Water sports industry
  • Security and surveillance
  • Environmental organisations 
  • University faculties
  • Training institutions
  • Naval squadrons

The interaction of these groups is the dynamic to improve and innovate and in France the maritime cluster has been refined to such a level that all governments irrespective of the political creed consider it as a partner in development. The continuous consultation and interaction ensures a win-win situation both for government and industry. It structures the consultation and perpetuates inclusivity. 

The European Union itself has recognised the importance of maritime clusters and as a matter of fact it has gathered the existing clusters into a confederation under the heading of The European Network of Maritime Clusters. The aim of this confederation is to translate national aims into European common targets. Although each national cluster varies, the common denominator in every cluster is the foundation which rests on three pillars namely the public sector, the private companies and the research/academic community. Without falling into negative inertia when analysing the local situation one cannot but conclude that we are still very lacking in this sector. Viewed differently, the establishment of a Malta maritime cluster is most interesting and promising because it is the future. 

The way forward calls for extensive consultation not for the sake of generating reports but to promote the maritime sector, lead and take action. In this regard, we are fortunate that there is ample local expertise that can be called upon to contribute towards the setting up of this common platform or maritime cluster.  The end objective remains that of creating wealth from our predominant natural resource - the sea.   

The Malta Shortsea Promotion Centre, which has taken the initiative to create this cluster platform, aims to step up its efforts by means of:

a)      Continued discussions with government to ensure that the process, structure and objectives are in common;

b)      Ongoing promotion to attract more representatives from the maritime industry; and

c)      Integration within the EU mainstream of maritime clusters.

Malta needs not spend efforts and funds to reinvent wheels; we can follow on the success of other European countries and adjust for the realities of Malta's uniqueness.

 

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