The Malta Independent 13 August 2022, Saturday

Hard and consistent work by Transport Malta pays off at keeping Malta’s sea safe

Shona Berger Sunday, 26 June 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Transport Malta is usually known for its work on Malta’s roads, but its hard and consistent work is also very visible at sea, as it works tirelessly to maintain the safety of the public off Malta’s shores.

The transport authority recently launched an enforcement and awareness campaign for boat owners and mariners called Fuq il-Baħar, Moħħok Hemm. This year’s campaign will focus on the use of life jackets, proper use of quays and slipways, notices to mariners, fairways, waste management at sea, playing loud music at sea, excessive velocity, proper use of swimmer designated zones, the mooring of boats, transportation of boats on a carriage, proper use of kill cords and the cleaning of boats.

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The Malta Independent on Sunday spent a day on board one of TM’s RHIBs (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat), with Maritime Enforcement manager Rudolph Muscat and other officials, to better understand how these officers carry out their work on a daily basis.

Working in Malta’s hot weather conditions is no easy task.

During the peak summer months, the unit increases it patrols and inspections to ensure that safety is maintained as much as possible, even after sunset. Patrols are usually carried out in the busiest areas, including the North area, Blue Lagoon, Għadira and il-Ħofriet, among other popular zones.

Prior to boarding the RHIB, we were each handed a life jacket and were instructed to keep it on at all times throughout the day, with the officials constantly emphasising the importance of safety.

 

‘TM equipped enough to ensure and maintain safety at sea, but we can always improve’

Muscat explained that Transport Malta recently added an additional five new RHIBs to its existing assets. Each RHIB is stationed at a particular area in Malta, including the North area, the South area, the Central area, the Blue Lagoon, and lastly, a RHIB which is responsible for the area surrounding Gozo.

He added that despite the challenges such operations encounter, the unit works extremely well and is adequately equipped to be able to ensure that safety at sea is maintained. For instance, just recently, TM was equipped with new, larger vessels which have facilities such as a bathroom, fridge and air-conditioning.

The new RHIBs can also withstand rough sea, giving the unit the possibility to go out even if the weather conditions are not the most ideal.

“The job is what it is, and sometimes can be very tiring to spend hours on end at sea. Therefore, having a well-equipped vessel makes it much easier for us to carry out our job effectively for the safety of the public,” Muscat said.

 

Increase in boat owners

Muscat also highlighted that this upgrade has been very beneficial for the times we are living in, where the workload and hours have significantly increased because more people in Malta own boats.

“We noticed that during the Covid-19 months, some people who were restricted to travel, decided to invest their money into a boat,” Muscat said.

The Maritime Enforcement Unit is responsible for a number of jobs, including that of regulating the speed of vessels in bays along the coast and in the harbour area. The speed limits at sea are marked by means of large buoys indicating the relevant speed limit, such as five or 10 knots. All vessels are expected to adhere to the indicated limit after passing the buoy. 

The TM unit at sea is also responsible for monitoring swimming zones, which, during the summer months are marked in several beaches across the Maltese islands.

Muscat said that, apart from ensuring that no seacraft of any kind are inside the swimming zone, the unit also works on ensuring that the ropes and buoys are in the right place and are well maintained. If officials see that something is out of place, they immediately make a phone call to the relevant department to inform them that maintenance is required. The progress on whether the maintenance was done or not is also monitored by the unit.

In addition, the unit also carries out random inspections on vessels to ensure that boatowners have their documents at hand and that everything is in order. This was something that The Malta Independent journalists witnessed on board. TM also has a system in place where the officials on board can contact the Maritime Control Centre to check the registration and validity of a particular boat. This is also carried out as random inspections.

 

Safety at sea

Speaking on the different ways in which Transport Malta can encourage the public to abide by the rules, Muscat explained that each boat owner that operates a vessel equipped with a motor of 30hp and over has to undergo training to obtain their nautical license, and a part of this training covers areas related to safety.

He explained that enforcement is applied by issuing warnings and fines. If a person is handed two warnings, especially on the same issue, such as over-speeding, a fine is issued because everything is recorded in Transport Malta’s database.

“The fines at sea are very expensive when compared to the fines that are given on our roads. For instance, if found guilty in court, a fine for over-speeding is €600 and the licence of the person found guilty is suspended for one year,” Muscat said.

Speaking about the main contraventions that are given at sea, Muscat said that these include over-speeding, expired registrations, engine not registered and unmarked tender vessels.

Tender boats are small boats usually used to render a service to the mother vessel. These need to be marked with initials as though it has a number plate so that it can, among other reasons, be easily identified if lost.

In the case of accidents, people in distress call 112. However, the Maritime Enforcement Unit is more likely to be at the scene before anyone else. Therefore, in such a case, as it is expected from every seaman, they try their best to assist people who need help.

“Just last week, a person on a jet ski in Għadira crashed into an isolated danger pole and ended up unconscious, but thanks to his life jacket he remained afloat. The unit was first on the scene after assistance was called for. Our job was to ensure that the surrounding area is kept clear so that no vessel hits the injured person until the Red Cross Unit arrived on the scene,” Muscat said.

 

Muscat appealed to the public to make sure that any vessel being taken out at sea has everything in order

Boat owners should also be responsible enough to check the local Notice to Mariners (NMs) as it is imperative that people at sea are aware of the latest safety-critical navigational information, Muscat said.

He also appealed that if one has a large vessel and is passing next to a smaller one, the large vessel should give way or at least lower the speed at which one is driving so as not to create any waves that might topple the smaller vessel over.

Vessels are also expected to stay away from swimming zones, Muscat appealed.


Photos & Video: Giuseppe Attard

 

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