The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Maritime contention

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 16 September 2021, 07:54 Last update: about 2 months ago

Throughout its history, Malta experienced its fair share of contention in maritime affairs. A recent example of this is the current controversy surrounding the plans to have a Yacht Marina in Marsascala Bay.

According to the government, such development is required to meet the demand for berthing spaces in Malta’s yachting sector, but on the other hand protestors are opposing the take-up of public land and sea for this scope, citing reasons such as the right to swim to justify their stance. 

Concurrently, another issue with potential ramifications, barely excited the public sphere. I am referring to the government’s consultation document for the ‘Valletta Grand Harbour Waterfront Strategic Plan’.  This urban development plan involves various localities and comprises “A Waterfront Strategic Plan for the entirety of the Grand Harbour; A Land Use Strategy for the Marsa Ex-Power Station Area; and A Wave Agitation Study Review.”

In this regard, it would be beneficial if the government is proactive in its consultation document. This refers to an area which is characterised by industrial activity, tourism, transport, and various other social and economic activity, at different scales, and at different levels of such activity (and inactivity).

It would help, therefore, if instead of simply expecting stakeholders to respond to its public consultation document, the government would engage in an ongoing holistic consultation exercise which would involve dialogue and deliberation amongst stakeholders such as local communities, government entities, local councils, businesses, civil society organisations, and experts, with the aim of reaching a workable way forward, rather than presenting development as a fait accompli.

Maritime Sociology can help provide some toolkits for such a deliberative exercise. I would like to refer readers of The Malta Independent to an article of mine entitled ‘A Maritime Sociology’ (Times of Malta August 14, 2017).

Here I referred to some basic facts, such as that Malta’s territorial waters are 14 times bigger than the country’s land area; the 25-nautical-mile Fisheries Management Zone is almost 40 times of the land area; that Malta’s coastal zone is almost one fifth of the country’s surface area; and that the coastline extends 273 kilometres.

I also referred to statistics related to the importance of the ‘blue economy’, where Malta is a European highflier in terms of unloaded goods and international intra-EU marine transport, as well as having an important role in industries such as fishing, fish farms and cruise liners. Around 25 per cent of Malta’s workforce is employed in coastal tourism, water sports, fishing, and fisheries, and Malta has one of the largest merchant ship registers in the world.

As I explained in the article in question, through Maritime Sociology, one can analyse industries such as construction, cruising, and fishing, but also micro-politics such as the occupation of space in public beaches.

Maritime Sociology can provide an understanding of ecological-human interactions, employment characteristics, job conditions, opportunities and threats in different economic sectors, social factors such as community interaction and aspirations, different voices in the maritime sectors, as well as contentious issues ranging from fish farms and yacht marinas, to irregular migration and climate change. The recent film ‘Luzzu’ depicts some of the contradictions and challenges in Malta’s maritime sphere, in this case as regards fisheries.

If policymaking for a blue economy is to factor in sustainability prerogatives on economic, environmental, and social impacts, public consultation is one important factor in this regard.

Thus, it is about time that Maltese policy-making embarks on deeper modes of deliberation. The maritime sector, with all its interests, risks, and opportunities, is one vital sector which can benefit from this policy upgrade. Malta’s status as a small-island EU member state with considerable maritime heritage adds legitimacy and responsibility to such claims.

 

Dr Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Malta

 

 

 

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