The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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The economic significance of the maritime industry

Vanya Walker-Leigh Thursday, 19 September 2019, 10:26 Last update: about 6 years ago

"Malta's maritime sector provides about 23,000 jobs, accounting for some 15% of the GDP and that excludes maritime sport and tourism," Dr Joe Borg, founding chair of the Malta Maritime Forum told this paper in an exclusive interview.

For the former foreign minister, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries - and architect of the EU Integrated Maritime Policy - the sector's importance is not appreciated by the public. MMF has commissioned a study on the economic significance of the maritime industry for Malta, to be completed in the coming months.

"The retention of our industry's competitivity and wherever possible strengthening its competitive edge is an important priority. With the increasing competition in this part of the Mediterranean, enterprises such as Palumbo and the Freeport need to be a step ahead. As regards the Malta ship registry - the largest in Europe and seventh largest worldwide with currently 8,000 ships totalling over 75 million gross registered tonnage - as long as it maintains its good and solid reputation it is good economics. We should strive for further growth maintaining and seeking to improve standards so as to become more attractive for higher quality vessels."

"MMF was set up in 2015 to meet the need for a common platform to co-ordinate efforts, aspirations and challenges faced by the sector. It now includes most major stakeholders, including dockers. Changes to the Statute will soon be proposed so as to bring in the Malta Shortsea Promotion Centre, which through its membership of the European Shortsea Network, contributes to the ongoing work of the EU Trans European Transport Network's Motorways of the Sea."

"Our first official aim is to promote the sector's interests and come up with common positions which will then be presented to the authorities. Thus, the Forum was instrumental in launching discussions with Transport Malta on the introduction of regulations for the Verified Gross Mass of containers. The discussions were to coordinate a smooth introduction of the regulations, very largely achieved. Another example was the Forum's position on strong support for the Maltese boat leasing structure and its application to pleasure yachts."

A second aim is to help the development of new maritime activities such as bunkering, logistics and Malta's role as a maritime hub.

The third aim is to promote research, education and training within the maritime sector to fill in the gaps not already provided by the University of Malta, MCAST and MMF member Malta Maritime Pilots. "MMF has taken the lead in providing courses for particular areas, such as its Maritime Induction Course catering mainly for young people who have just gained employment in the maritime field," Dr Borg explained. "The MMF is also working closely with the UK Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers providing new opportunities for young people already employed in the local maritime sector to further their studies and obtain certification as qualified shipbrokers. Under our MOU with the Institute, Malta has been selected as one global location for its open day to promote maritime sector higher education."

MMF's fourth aim is to act as a constituted body so as to consult and be consulted by government in the development of public policies that can have a bearing on the Maltese maritime sector. "We look at issues, study them carefully, take positions and then either communicate our position or seek meetings, at ministerial or technical level. We raise both issues that would hurt the industry and those to improve things so as to find the proper solution or the best way forward. During Malta's EU Presidency in 2017 MMF tabled nine proposals with the Ministry of Transport and Transport Malta. Some of our recommendations were taken up for the text of the Valletta Declaration: Priorities for the EU's maritime transport policy until 2020 adopted by the Transport Ministers' Council."

"On blue economy issues we work closely with government's Malta Marittima on legal ones with our member, the Malta Maritime Law Association. Our committee on Marine Resources, Culture and Heritage meets stakeholders, seeking to create more awareness and establish a position on the protection of our maritime culture and heritage, apart from considering everything relating to our marine resources."

The Grand Harbour Regeneration Plan is a key focus of MMF concern and subject of ongoing discussions with Transport Malta, including a meeting with its chairman Joseph Bugeja of all MMF members at MCCEI in May resulting in a MMF submission in June and receipt of further information on a TM-commissioned consultancy study. A further updating meeting with members is mooted. "The potential of the Grand Harbour, in the sense of a better, more efficient and more effective use of it, is certainly there but it has to be managed well. Account has to be taken of the realities of the Grand Harbour and the sensitivity of the whole area," Dr Borg stated.

"Another issue of MMF concern is the negative view often entertained about maritime employment. Working on board a merchant or container vessel is often looked down on, though not so much the case for employment on board cruise liners or mega yachts. To counter this we are providing more and better information on careers at sea and it is important to focus more on the employment term perspective. It is almost impossible to continue working at sea until retirement age so the question is - what happens afterwards?  We need to do more to educate the public, youngsters in particular. So we are going to schools and speaking to teens on this subject."

"On oil pollution response, we have discussed with Transport Malta and would like to see a permanent set-up and the appropriate preventive measures in place, so if there is a spill, properly coordinated immediate action is taken."

"MMF closely follows the UN International Maritime Organisation's discussions during its regular meetings with Transport Malta and other relevant authorities," Dr Borg explained. "Our main line has always been that any decisions affecting shipping must be taken at international level. Decisions at a national or EU level which would be tighter than those adopted at an international level would mean our shipping industry would risk losing out to those not similarly bound. We support Sustainable Shipping for a Sustainable Planet endorsed by the IMO Council as the World maritime theme for 2020. "

Dr Borg sees a huge potential for the EU Integrated Maritime Policy to deal with sea-related matters in a more integrated manner including blue biotechnology, ocean energy, seabed mining, carbon capture and storage and even rising sea levels caused by ice cap melt due to climate change. 

"A number of IMP-related initiatives were launched such as the 2014 Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning seeking to make the best uses of maritime space especially in and around coastal areas where there may be various possible competing. Integrated Maritime Surveillance is another area being developed, providing authorities interested or active in maritime surveillance with ways to exchange information and data which could relate to border control, safety and security, fisheries control, customs, environment or defence. The European Network of Maritime Clusters (of which MMF is a member) mainly focuses on monitoring all proposals and initiatives at European level which can have an impact on the maritime industry and discussing them with the European Commission and other European Institutions."


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